During their life cycle, trypanosomes must overcome conflicting demands to ensure their survival and transmission. First, they must evade immunity without overwhelming the host. Second, they must generate and maintain transmission stages at sufficient levels to allow passage into their tsetse vector. Finally, they must rapidly commit to onward development when they enter the tsetse fly. On the basis of recent quantification and modelling of Trypanosoma brucei infection dynamics, we propose that the interplay between immune evasion and development achieves both infection chronicity and transmissibility. Moreover, we suggest that a novel form of bistable regulation ensures developmental commitment on entry into the tsetse fly midgut.