Freshwater leech (Macrobdella decora)

What has 5 pair of eyes and feeds on the blood of its prey!? This month’s Creature Feature, the freshwater leech! It is not the most popular or favorable organism, but that is because we only know part of their story.

The freshwater leech, Macrobdella decora, lives in slow moving freshwater and feeds on the blood of its prey (fish, frogs, turtles, and some mammals) with its front and rear suckers. The leech’s mouth sucker is able to break through the skin of the host and then releases an enzyme that numbs the affected area and then causes the blood to flow freely. They are able to grow up to 5 times their original size until they release from their host or prey.

Leeches have been used medicinally to take care of patients that have lost limbs or to reduce swelling. It’s been recorded that leech’s have been used medically over 2,500 years ago in Egypt; it was thought that the leech would drain the impure blood from the patient and therefore cure the patient. Today, doctors have realized that leeches can assist in blood clots and reconstructive surgery.

Next time you jump into a pond or stream, be aware of these creatures but keep in mind they can be your friend at some point, not just your foe. As long as you all stay on the trails here at the Lloyd Center and do not venture too deep into the swampy waters you should not have to worry about these creatures – so don’t fret, come on down!

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