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For successful transmission to the vertebrate host, malaria sporozoites must migrate from the mosquito midgut to the salivary glands. Here, using purified sporozoites inoculated into the mosquito haemocoel, we show that salivary gland invasion is inefficient and that sporozoites have a narrow window of opportunity for salivary gland invasion. Only 19% of sporozoites invade the salivary glands, all invasion occurs within 8h at a rate of approximately 200 sporozoites per hour, and sporozoites that fail to invade within this time rapidly die and are degraded. Then, using natural release of sporozoites from oocysts, we show that haemolymph flow through the dorsal vessel facilitates proper invasion. Most mosquitoes had low steady-state numbers of circulating sporozoites, which is remarkable given the thousands of sporozoites released per oocyst, and suggests that sporozoite degradation is a rapid immune process most efficient in regions of high haemolymph flow. Only 2% of Anopheles gambiae haemocytes phagocytized Plasmodium berghei sporozoites, a rate insufficient to explain the extent of sporozoite clearance. Greater than 95% of haemocytes phagocytized Escherichia coli or latex particles, indicating that their failure to sequester large numbers of sporozoites is not due to an inability to engage in phagocytosis. These results reveal the operation of an efficient sporozoite-killing and degradation machinery within the mosquito haemocoel, which drastically limits the numbers of infective sporozoites in the mosquito salivary glands.