Have you ever been bitten by a leech? It could happen to anyone who goes for a paddle. It’s true that leeches prefer to live in swamps but they can also be found in rivers, ponds or even the trunks of trees – so a walk in the forest isn’t always safe!
Leeches are blood suckers. If they manage to come into contact with your body they will bite, cutting through the skin with their three sharp teeth and attaching themselves securely whilst they feed. You probably won’t know they are there at first but, once you do, you’ll want to get these parasites off! There are several ways to do this – fire, salt or a firm squeeze.
Here are some facts you may, or may not, know about these vampire worms:
- Leeches are hermaphrodites. They are male and female. This means they can reproduce without a partner
- When they feed, leeches can consume up to 5 times their bodyweight. This is enough to keep them going for up to a year before they have to eat again
- Leeches have their own natural enemies. They are eaten by fish, dragonfly larvae and many other predators
- The leech’s closest relative is the harmless earthworm
- Leeches come in many sizes. The largest ever come across was 40cm long. Most are more like 7cm
- Leeches have been involved in medicine for thousands of years. The first civilisation to make use of them was the Ancient Indians, 2,500 years before Christ
- In the Middle Ages, leeches were used to let blood. This treatment probably caused more harm to the patient than good!
- Leeches are still used in medicine today. Their saliva prevents blood from clotting and is used to make anticoagulant drugs
So there you have it. Leeches are parasites and nobody wants to find one feasting on their blood. But, just like every other animal, the leech is perfectly adapted to its natural niche. It has its part to play in the ecosystem it inhabits and is also quite useful to us – if properly respected!