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Leech-The Lesser Known Leech Facts and How to Identify Them?

July 10, 2018
Leech Facts

The Lesser Known Leech Facts and How to Identify Them?

A leech can be termed as a carnivorous blood-sucking worm that is usually found in fresh water. Leeches have a body that is segmented and has a sucker part towards both its end. They are usually found in dark colors such as black, brown, etc.  We all have a picture of leeches being dark-colored bloodsuckers that can chew off at swollen places. These leeches do not prefer human blood as a treat, but you can easily be attacked by one of you accidentally fall prey to a leech.  You can easily find leeches at places where you have fresh water, ponds marshlands, oceans, wet soils, etc.

We very well now that leeches are a lookalike of the worm family and survive by drinking blood. There are various types of leeches and scientist have discovered over 700 species of leeches so here are few different types of leeches that will clear the question in your mind as to What is leech & How to identify them?

Freshwater leeches

1. Freshwater leeches

The most commonly found leeches are freshwater leeches and are usually found in water sources such as ponds, rivers, lakes, etc. leeches are generally supposed to be as creepy worms, but there is a leech species known as Macrobdella decora which has an orange colored belly and orange polka dots all over its body which makes it look attractive. This species of leech may definitely be a pretty looking creature but only when it is away and not sucking your blood because even such beautiful looking leeches can make you panic when they are found somewhere clinging on your body.  The saliva of freshwater leeches is also used for preparing medicines as the saliva of such leeches contains anesthetic properties.

2. Terrestrial leeches

Unlike the freshwater leeches which are found in water sources, these terrestrial leeches are found on the land. They can survive on land, but they at least require a humid environment which can give the apt amount of moisture to maintain their mucus which is like a protective covering for the leeches. These type of leeches are usually found in countries like Asia, Africa, South America. These leeches as the name suggest live on land but for short durations, they can also spend their lives submerged in water. If it happens that there is a lack of moisture in the environment for such leeches to survive, then they dig holes in the mud and get inside to gain the moisture that they need for their survival.

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3. Marine leeches

Marine leeches as the name suggests are leeches that are found in the depth of oceans, and they usually feed on other aquatic life forms. A leech species known as Notostomum leave was the first marine leech that was found in the oceans of North America. Such leeches are found in the cold and chilly waters of the oceans. Such leeches are supposed to feed on ebony fishes or cartilaginous fishes. But there is never a chance of the different type of species of leeches feeding on both the fishes, they either eat ebony or cartilaginous fish but never both.

leeches

4. Mouth distinguishing factor

We have studied three different types of leeches above, but there is another factor that can be used as a differentiation factor That is their mouth. Apart from the geological factors and environment required for a leech that we have studied before, the mouth is another factor which we can use to identify leeches. There are leeches which have jaws and are capable of sticking on to its prey with the help of their teeth while sucking blood. There is another category of leeches which do not have jaws instead have a proboscis which is used for sucking blood. These jawless leeches usually feed on the blood of snails, frogs, etc. Apart from such leeches which have jaws and jawless ones, there are few species of leeches which directly gulps down the insects and are known as worm leeches. Such leeches are not bloodsuckers and eat their prey as a whole. They feed on fish eggs and small insects.

Some surprising facts about leech that you probably didn’t know

Leeches are creepy looking worms that may scare you off if you spot it sticking somewhere on your body. They are slippery, oozy and slim worms who are bloodsuckers and feed on the host body. There are lot many things that you might love to know about these cool slippery worms but yes when it is from a distance and not when you find some clinging on your body. So here are few facts about leech that you need to know about this slippery crawly.

5. Leech belong to the worm family

Yes, an earthworm is the very first picture that may come to your mind when you think about the cousins of a leech. Leeches have a lot many things in common with the earthworms especially when you talk about their looks and physique. Even leeches and earthworms make a good bait for fishes and especially walleye. If you talk about the difference between the two, then you can say that leeches have a more solid body than the earthworms and the segmentation and organs vary.

6. All leeches are not bloodsuckers

As soon as the word leeches come in our mind, we get the feeling of them being a mini Dracula that can suck blood, but you may be surprised to know that all leeches are not bloodsuckers. Yes, most of the leeches we find are bloodsuckers, but there are many other types of leeches which do not suck blood. There are many species of leeches which do not suck blood and are instead carnivores which eat worms and larvae. Apart from this fact that all leeches are not bloodsuckers, even those leeches which sucks blood do not crave for human blood instead they depend on the blood of snails, turtle, frogs, etc. But by luck, if these leeches find a way to hold on to a human leg they will surely not miss a chance of feeding on them as well.

leech sex

7. Leeches have dual sex organs

Leeches are hermaphrodites, and hence they possess both male and female sex organs. Having both the reproductive organs doesn’t mean that a leech can fertilize all by themselves. During the reproduction, process leeches arrange themselves in a line in a head to feet fashion and then goes on the passing the parcel game of sperms. They line up themselves in such a way that the sperm packets are transferred, and hence the fertilization process takes place.

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8. Leeches can be found in all parts of the world

Leeches can adapt themselves to different types of environmental conditions and thus are found all around the globe. It is not that if you are in Antarctica, you cannot see a leech, yes you may not find the freshwater leeches in such a cold place, but you can surely find those little blood sucking monsters in all such oceans around the globe. Leeches are not restricted to any specific continent and can be found at all places around the world.

9. Leeches grow really big

Even a small leech has the capability of scaring a person if you find it stuck to your body and the sad part is that leeches can really grow big even till half the length of a foot. Can you imagine such a big sized leech waiting for you to give a kiss? No right? But yes this is a fact that a leech can grow and reach a size up to 45cm in length. You cannot find such big sized monsters in a regular routine, but they can really expand themselves to such a size during their growing process.

leech medicine

10. Leeches possess Medicinal properties

Apart from stinging you and sucking your blood, a leech also owns some medicinal properties. Yes, this thought may give you a yucky feeling, but this is a fact that those slippery worms are also used in medicines. Doctors use leech and their saliva in reconstructive surgeries for draining out blood from the swollen up body parts post-surgery. You can find the doctors using leeches as a blood draining method in areas such as the ears, toes, fingers, etc. There has been news that leeches are also being used in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

11. Leeches are deaf 

Leeches can suck your blood, but they are deaf little creatures and cannot hear. A leech does not have ears and cannot hear but can sense through their skin. They sense vibrations and communicate with each other through the touch and taste method. They are deaf for sure and can also not see up to far off distances.

12. Leeches are highly adaptable

Leeches usually don’t play tantrums and are highly adjustable and adaptable. They do not demand much whether it is food or oxygen. A meal is a meal always, but if you research about a few species of leech, then you may be surprised to know that there are some species of leeches which can survive without consuming food for a whole year. Even if it happens that these leeches are sent to a place where there is less amount of oxygen, they can survive and withstand the low oxygen content in the atmosphere. Apart from this these sticky creatures can also survive in polluted areas, it becomes difficult for us to settle down in areas that are highly polluted but when we talk about leeches, they can be fine in the polluted area as well.

leech attack

13. If a leech is sticking on to you, then it is better to wait

If accidentally you happen to see a leech sticking on you when you come out of the water, then it is sure that you may have a panicky feeling. It is not easy for one to see a leech sucking up the blood but it is better that you hold on and let the leech drop down by itself. Another remedy that you can use at such a sight is a pinch of salt. You can use salt sprinkle it on the ant which will cause discomfort to the leech and will make it drop down early.

14. Leeches are eating machines

We have studied before that leeches can survive for a year without eating food but at the same time, they are eating machines. They can eat up like a hungry hog and store the nutrient till the time they feed on their next prey.

15. Leeches are good and caring parents

There are few species of leeches which have a habit of covering their body when they lay eggs. They cover themselves with their own body, and in order to prevent the eggs from being prone to bacteria and fungi, they keep fanning on the eggs. Once the egg hatches, the young one clings on to its parent leech. Clinging on to the parent is not a sign of feeding, but they merely latch themselves to their parents, and as soon as the parent goes out to have a good blood such then the parent is also carrying the newly developed vampire baby with them to have its first meal.

leech species

16. New species of leeches– yet to be discovered

Till now, the scientists have discovered about seven hundred species of leeches and are on the verge of discovering more in years to come.

So, if you are thinking about what is a leech and how to identify them then here is something that can help you in determining and getting rid of them.

Leeches are basically look alike of a worm you may say and are invertebrates which can be easily found on land as well as water sources such as marine water, fresh water, etc. These leeches depend on the host body and survive by feeding on the nutrients that they gain from the host’s body.

17. How to identify and remove different types of leeches?

If you get in a condition where you find a leech latched to your body, then here is a guide on How to identify and remove different types of leeches.

18. The identification process

Firstly, you need to clarify that if it is actually a leech that has bitten you or something else. Leeches are not easy to spot when they bite you because they secrete an anesthetic substance which doesn’t let the host know about their presence. If suddenly you happen to find that something is biting you but are not able to remove it from your body then be sure that it is leech that will not come out how hard you try. There might be a confusion between leech and tick, but ticks do not look like a worm, and if you happen to see a worm biting you and are incapable of removing it from your body then it is undoubtedly a leech.

Identify the attachment place

19. Identify the attachment place

An oral sucker is attached to the skinny rear end of a leech’s body which is helpful for them to make the grip.

20. Removal of the leech

Once you have found out the oral sucker of the leech, you can use a fingernail to push the leech away from the body. The fingernail should be placed next to the oral sucker, and then the removal process should be done by pushing it slowly. Make sure that you are not putting the fingernail towards the fat end of the leech and pushing it because this may cause more infection as the leech may regurgitate hence causing more harm to the host body. Some people also try to burn the leech or use other chemicals, but this is a wrong practice as this might again cause the leech to regurgitate and spread infection as well.

21. Get rid of the leech

Once you have removed, the leech from the infected area gets rid of the leech as soon as possible because the leech may try to reattach and may curl around your fingers. So as soon as you remove the leech, you should get rid of them with a sudden flick.

leech bite

 

22. Some important things that you need to know about a leech bite

  • Leeches can feed on the blood of the host body as long as they are full or as long as they wish. Once they are done, they will drop and can survive a few months on the blood that they have sucked from the host’s body.
  • A leech bite does not cause death but may affect your physical [performance. The wound should be properly cleaned after a leech bite and cure after some time if it is adequately nursed.
  • Leeches are usually found in places that have a flat and smooth surface. You can easily find them in still water surfaces, docks and other such places where they can find their host to survive on.
  • Leeches can be termed as intelligent worms and have a capability of sensing movement and heat even from a distance of ten feet.
  • If you want to keep away from leech bite and if you are in such a place where you are sure to find leeches, then make sure that you are wearing proper clothes that may cover your whole body and protect you from a leech bite.

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