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When you think about dangerous animals, what comes to mind? Spiders? Killer bees? Think smaller — the most deadly insects are mosquitoes and flies! Pathogens transmitted by mosquito bites kill half a million people every year.

Phlebotomine sand flies may not look very scary. They’re only 3 millimeters long! But they infect more than a million people with Leishmania parasites every year. Early diagnosis and treatment can cure leishmaniasis infections. But it can lie undetected for months or even years, causing long-term organ damage or even death. This makes preventing new infections very important.

This is why we wanted to know what exactly sand flies eat. Sand fly females suck blood but both males and females also feed on plant sap. We collected five species of sand flies from five different countries. We were surprised — in all but one site sand flies fed on a plant which is illegal for farmers to cultivate …Cannabis sativa!

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