Giant Amazonian Leech (haementeria Ghilianii): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: Possibly the largest freshwater leech, the giant Amazonian leech can grow up to 17.72 inches (450 millimeters) long and 3.93 inches (100 millimeters) wide. Adults are dark gray-brown. Younger individuals have a broken stripe down their backs and patches of color on every third body segment. They have only one pair of eyes.
Geographic range: They live from the mouth of the Amazon River, north to Venezuela and the Guianas.
Habitat: The giant Amazonian leech lives in coastal wetland marshes.
Diet: Young leeches feed on amphibians. Adults usually attack caimans, anacondas, capybaras, and domestic cattle.
Behavior and reproduction: This species is a good swimmer and is usually found under rocks or in debris in the water while they digest their meals and carry their cocoons.
Sperm packets are attached to the body of the mate. Eggs are kept in a sac underneath the parent's body until they hatch and are carried to their first blood meal by the parent.
Giant Amazonian leeches and people: A special chemical isolated from the saliva of the giant Amazonian leech is sometimes used as a medical treatment to break down blood clots in humans.
Conservation status: The giant Amazonian leech is not considered endangered or threatened. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Blaxland, B. Earthworms, Leeches, and Sea Worms. New York: Chelsea House, 2002.
Sawyer, R. T. Leech Biology and Behaviour. Oxford, U.K.: The Clarendon Press, 1986.
Elliott, J. M., and P. A. Tullett. "The Status of the Medicinal Leech Hirudo medicinalis in Europe and Especially in the British Isles." Biological Conservation 29 (1984): 15-26.
Wells, S., and W. Coombes. "The Status of and Trade in the Medicinal Leech." Traffic Bulletin 8 (1987): 64-69.
All About Leeches Web Page. http://www.invertebrate.ws/leech/index.htm (accessed on December 26, 2004).
Class Hirudinea. Leeches. http://lakes.chebucto.org/ZOOBENTH/BENTHOS/xxvi.html (accessed on December 26, 2004).
Leeches. Biological Indicators of Watershed Health. http://www.epa.gov/bioindicators/html/leeches.html (accessed on December 26, 2004).
Lovable Leeches. http://www.accessexcellence.org/LC/SS/leechlove.html (accessed on December 24, 2004).
The Biology of Annelids. Beaufort, SC: BioMedia Associates, 2000.
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