What Can We Learn from Leeches?

The Lost Forest, Madagascar
Journal Entry:

I’ve dedicated the last four years to studying leech anatomy, behavior and gut contents! I’ve learned that I can use leeches to study the animals that live in the forest and eventually use that information to protect the fragile ecosystems these animals inhabit. Leeches themselves are indicators of forest quality, meaning forests that are home to many leeches are also forests that are healthy and thriving.

Did you know the leeches can harbor the DNA of up to four different species in their guts and can feed up to eight times their own body weight in blood? Pretty amazing, right? Terrestrial leeches feed on mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Leeches help us find animals that are too small, shy or camouflaged to see with camera traps or visual surveys. Leeches are, therefore, extremely useful tools for studying threatened species. Leeches themselves are often beautifully patterned, if you take the time to notice them!

I feel lucky and honored to be able to study and appreciate these overlooked creatures. As you learn more about leeches and how important they are to protecting fragile ecosystems, I hope you can learn to love them, too!