For over a century, scientists have debated whether terrestrial leeches can jump. A recent study shows that some terrestrial leech species can indeed jump.

Key Findings

New Evidence of Leech jumping Behaviour

  • A new study published in the journal Biotropica provides the first conclusive video evidence, settling this long-standing debate.
  • Lead author Mai Fahmy, during expeditions to Madagascar in 2017 and 2023, documented the elusive jumping behavior. 
  • The footage shows leeches from the genus Chtonobdella coiling back on a leaf and then propelling themselves into the air. 
  • This remarkable technique, akin to a “back-bending cobra,” had previously only been described anecdotally by naturalists and leech biologists.

Comparative Behaviour

  • While the jumping prowess of terrestrial leeches surprised some, it’s not entirely unique in the animal kingdom. 
  • Several other worm-like invertebrates, such as gall midge larvae, Mediterranean fruit fly larvae, and “skipper flies,” are known for their jumping abilities.

Conservation Importance  

  • The lead author collected the jumping leech and identified it as Chtonobdella fallax, a common species in Madagascar. 
  • Understanding leech behaviour is crucial for conservation efforts, as leeches and their blood meals are increasingly used to survey vertebrate biodiversity. 

Ecosystem of pond with different invertebrates animals (insects, molluscs, leech) in their natural habitat. 

About the Terrestrial leeches

  • Terrestrial leeches are a type of leech that inhabits moist areas on land. It belong to the subclass Hirudinea, which also includes aquatic leeches.
  • These blood-sucking worms are primarily found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, South America, and parts of Africa.
  • Typically small, land leeches measure between 1 and 10 centimeters (0.4 to 4 inches) in length when unfed. 
  • These leeches have sensory organs that detect vibrations, heat, and chemical signals, helping them locate hosts.
  • Terrestrial leeches breathe through their skin, which must remain moist to facilitate gas exchange.
  • Leech saliva contains anesthetic compounds that make their bites painless, so the host often doesn’t notice the leech.
  • The anticoagulant properties of leech saliva have been studied for medical applications, such as improving blood flow in surgical procedures and treating blood clots.
  • Jumping leeches were documented by 14th-century explorer Ibn Battuta in Sri Lanka, suggesting independent evolution in various species. 
  • However, scientific skepticism about leeches’ ability to jump grew by the mid-20th century.

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