Abstract Phlebotomus papatasi females were fed through membranes or from cotton wool soaked in blood, water, sucrose or sodium chloride solutions. In membrane-fed flies, all diets were routed to the midgut and not to the crop. Following the meals that went to the midgut, females showed ovarian development at least 3 times greater than in sucrose-fed, autogenous control flies. Neither small quantities of water arriving in the midgut following drinking from soaked cotton wool, nor piercing of a membrane without feeding, stimulated ovarian development. Flies exhibited different feeding behaviour namely, blood feeding, sugar feeding, and water drinking. The blood-feeding behaviour was typical of flies ingesting any of the experimental diets through membranes, or blood or saline from cotton wool. The other two types of behaviour were observed in flies which fed from soaked cotton wool. The type of behaviour was characterized by the depth of penetration of the mouthparts into the substrate, the deployment of the palps and the degree of contact between the palps and the surface. It is suggested that the stimuli which control the routing of meals to the crop or to the midgut are derived from these types of behaviour.