We asked whether the age of a rodent host affects the feeding performance of fleas. We predicted that fleas would perform better on young and old than on adult rodents. To test this prediction, we determined bloodmeal size, rate of digestion and time of survival after a single bloodmeal in Xenopsylla ramesis feeding on Meriones crassus of different ages. Fleas took less blood from subadult and adult than from juvenile and old animals. Fleas digested blood of old hosts at the highest rate and blood of juvenile hosts most slowly. After a bloodmeal, fleas survived the longest if fed on a juvenile host. The effect of host gender on bloodmeal size and survival after a bloodmeal was manifested only in (a) subadult and adult hosts and (b) subadult hosts, respectively. Host gender affected the rate of digestion differently among digestion stages and host age cohorts. We explain the observed patterns in flea performance in terms of changes in the host's immune defences and nutritional quality of blood during the host's individual life. Our observations suggested that a host of a particular age could not be unequivocally predicted to be more or less beneficial for a parasite than a younger or an older host.
- bloodmeal size