Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Leeches 101

First published Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leeches 101
During Melissa’s first day at Munsonville School, Ann Dalton compares their biology teacher, a former scientist, to H.G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau. That’s because Mr. Walczak, through his retained laboratory connections, brought all manner of interesting specimens to class, including a two-headed fish and a vampire bat.

So when Mr. Walczak collects a jar of leeches from Lake Munson, Melissa is fascinated at the close-up view at the grotesque creatures, although Jack Cooper, who grew up in a fishing boat with his father, is bored.

Perhaps Mr. Walczak’s connections included Biopharm (, an international company, established in 1812 and based in South Wales, UK. His knowledge of leeches certainly suggests it.

According to the company website, Biopharm is the first leech farm of its kind. It produces, in a sterile environment, the majority of leeches used in modern medicine worldwide. Thank you, Biopharm, for sharing your interesting collection of leech facts.

· There are 650 known species of leeches.
· The largest leech discovered measured eighteen inches.
· About one fifth of leech species live in the sea where they feed on fish.
· The leech has thirty-two brains, thirty-one more than a human.
· The Hirudo Medicinalis is the leech mostly used in plastic and reconstructive surgery.
· The Hirudo leech lays its babies within a cocoon; whereas the Amazon leech carries its babies—sometimes as many as three hundred--on its stomach.
· Not all leeches are bloodsuckers. Many are predators, which eat earthworms. Ironically the nearest relatives of leeches are earthworms.
· The Hirudo leech has three jaws with one hundred teeth on each jaw, making three hundred teeth in all.
· The Amazon leech uses a different method of sucking blood. They insert a long proboscis into the victim, as opposed to biting.
· The bite of a leech is painless due to its own anesthetic.
· The Hirudo injects an anti-coagulant serum into the victim to prevent blood clotting.
· The leech will gorge itself until full, sometimes up to five times its body weight, and then just fall away from its victim.
· After the Hirudo leech drops off, the wound it leaves will bleed, on average, for ten hours.
· The first leech was used in medicine about 1000 B.C, probably in ancient India.
· Wales was once one of the major leech collecting areas of Europe. People would stand in lakes and pools and, when the leech attached to their legs, they would put them in their baskets and sell them.
· The original surgeons were barbers that used leeches to cure anything from headaches to gout. The red and white stripe traditionally seen on a barber pole began when surgeons hung their bandages on a pole outside their shops.
· Biopharm leeches have helped save the limbs of patients in twenty-nine different countries.
· By extracting the anti-clotting serum for the leech, researchers are isolating new pharmaceutical compounds for eventual treatment of heart diseases.
· The nervous system of the leech is very similar to the human nervous system and is of enormous benefit to researchers in their quest for the answers to human problems.

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