Thursday, 25 July 2013

How to befriend a Leech.

  I have to admit, Leeches are not everyone’s cup of tea.  They are wriggly, alien looking and yes they like to suck up a bit of human blood every so often (nothing that your average banker doesn’t do on a regular basis).  But I actually like them, they’re interesting, intriguing and really quite harmless (in fact they are closely related to that other threat to life and limb, the humble earthworm).  Leeches have incredible senses and can detect light intensity, heat and movement from about 3 meters away. When they are “foraging” for a feed, they will wave their body and move their head to maximise their sensory structures. They secrete a sneaky anaesthetic so if they attach themselves to you, it is hard to detect their presence and their saliva contains an anti-coagulant which prevents your blood from clotting. The good news is that once they have had a quiet meal of your blood they will drop off and be perfectly sustained for several months. It’s a wonderful thing though, to just let a leech quietly feast on you whilst all the other humans nearby are suffering meltdowns of intense squeamishness (this works especially well in an office environment). Most leech species do not actually feed on human blood, but instead prey on small invertebrates which they eat whole.
 Leeches are not known to carry any diseases, in fact they were used traditionally as a cure-all for everything from indigestion to syphilis, as well as to remove blood for medicinal purposes. This practice can be traced back to ancient India and Greece. Today the medical use of leeches is making a comeback particularly as an aid to reduce swelling and clotting in microsurgery procedures.Leeches have the capacity to change colour dramatically and are hermaphrodites, having both male and female sex organs, so they are well equipped for the full range of wholesome fun.

 Most leeches are aquatic (including some marine species) but Australia and South-East Asia are the only known places where leeches live on land, usually in moist forests. These are the kinds most likely to attach themselves to you!  Globally there are around 700 species of Leech.

  So please don’t burn a leech off yourself or drench it in salt or chemicals...just give it a gentle flick and it will go peaceable on its blood sucking way.  Or better still, let it feed on you or a friend (it’s  much more entertaining than watching the latest Dracula re-make!).

                ( NB. Some people do suffer allergic reactions from leech bites and may require medical care).