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This particular leech was quite determined as it managed to dig it’s biting mouthparts through the weave of my socks to deliver a painful bite to my foot. Though I had previously been told that mountain leeches could chew (or rather push) their way through fabric this was my first experience with such an ambitious specimen.
Japanese Mountain Leeches (Haemadipsa zeylanica or yama-biru as they are called in Japanese) may sometimes be encountered during warm months when hiking through wet locations in the mountains of central Japan. Blood-sucking leeches are attracted to warm bodies which they detect and hone-in on like heat-seeking missiles. The most common form of leech locomotion is an inchworm-like gait which causes the leech to measure the earth with its body as it moves along. When in a hurry mountain leeches are capable of faster movement by means of a cartwheeling somersault which is actually rather disconcerting to see when they are doing it in pursuit of you! Leeches may even climb trees to drop onto their victims when they detect them passing below. Leeches commonly attach themselves to the legs of passing animals at which point the leech begins to make its way over the body in search of a warm, safe location where it can easily bite through soft skin. If they can’t find such a spot the leech may attempt and succeed at biting through clothing. Humans are often bitten on the feet within the shoes as well as on the back of the leg below the knee as well as other places where folds of skin come together. As leech bites are nearly always painless (the leeches release an anesthetic to dull sensation) the victim many never know that they have been bitten until they discover copious blood oozing from the small puncture wound left after the leech has gorged itself on blood and dropped off. The wound will likely bleed for several hours due to an anti-coagulant the leech has used to maintain a steady blood flow while feeding.
Leeches will hold onto their victims though the use of suckers located on either end of their body. It may be a bit tricky to figure out which end is the one with the teeth if both ends are attached. Typically the head (and mouth) are the smaller end. A simple and effective way to remove a leech from the body is to simply slide a fingernail between the leech’s mouthparts and the skin of the victim. This will cause the leech to loose suction and disengage promptly. It’s good to avoid squeezing or hurting the leech while it is attached as this may cause the animal to regurgitate it’s stomach contents into the victim’s bloodstream. For this reason you should always avoid extraction techniques which involve the application of heat, chemicals or causing physical trauma to the leech. Expect lots of bleeding for quite a long time from even very small bites (three hours is average when I am bitten).
There are two main types of leech in Japan, including the blood sucking type shown in this video as well as a much larger carnivorous variety. This latter leech is without sucking mouthparts and instead has a large mouth which allows it to swallow prey nearly as big as the leech. Please see the video link below to view this fascinating carnivore of the moist forest floor taking on a giant earthworm.
Please copy and paste the link above into your browser address field or search YouTube for the video titled ‘Japan Mountain Leech vs. Giant Earthworm’
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