L is for Leech
I think we’d all agree that we’d rather not become a meal for a leech – and I decided to spare you a picture of one, and draw you a cartoon instead, but leeches have been given rather a bad press, and hopefully this blog will at least make you feel a bit happier about them!
Leeches are a type of worm. There are 700 species, 100 marine, 90 terrestrial, and the rest freshwater, forming a very important part of the food chain. Most leeches are predators, feeding on small invertebrates.
Only very few live on the blood of vertebrates, and these are the leeches which we may find attached to our dogs. Or us. They might or might not (it is not proven) use an anaesthetic to numb the pain of their bite, but they certainly have extremely effective methods of making sure their host’s blood does not clot, enabling them to swell with blood and drop off.
This is incredibly efficient – they may not need to eat again for 6 months.
Breaking the seal of the leech’s mouth and back end with a fingernail and brushing them away is the easiest and safest way to remove them – using any other method can make them regurgitate some of their stomach contents into the wound.
This could cause disease – but actually, leeches very very rarely cause any problem whatsoever to their human host, bar bleeding, which usually lasts a few hours (but can last three days, depending on species). Only a few cases of disease in hundreds of years have been reported, so there is no need to worry. As long as the wound is kept clean and does not become infected.
Bar one small species endemic to Eurasia and Africa which can parasitise humans… *looks out onto English garden and feels thankful*.
Leeches have much that we can learn from, particularly the methods already mentioned used for anticoagulation.
For there are also medicinal leeches. Years ago these were used by Doctors to take blood from people with a range of maladies – of course, this did not usually work, but they can be used to great effect nowadays and are making a comeback. Most notably in plastic surgery where blood can clot and cause tissue death. Leeches keep the blood flowing and tissue healthy.
Leeches are also used in Germany to help with osteoarthritis after their use was discovered to help with the pain of this condition.
So – I guess I may not have won you over to a lifelong love for the leech – and my poem is certainly not going to help with that, but I hope you enjoy it at least!
A leech makes a three cornered cut,
when its sixty-three teeth all snap shut,
it has thirty-two brains
and its spit numbs your pains,
as it drains all your blood to its gut.
A leech with its three sucking chins,
drinks glugs of your blood which it thins,
swells like a balloon,
then falls in a swoon,
with stretched skin and three satisfied grins.
© Liz Brownlee
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Prose and Poem and cartoon © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.