Hirudo Medicinalis Articles Information

What is Leech Therapy ?

What is Leech Therapy ?

Since the time of ancient Egypt, leeches have been used in medicine to treat nervous system abnormalities, dental problems, skin diseases, and infections.

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Medical leeches are back because everything sucks

Medical leeches are back because everything sucks

Editor's Note: The video of leeches used in surgery is a bit bloody — especially after the 2-minute mark.

Leeches get a bad rap — but they might not deserve it.

Yes, they're creepy crawly blood-suckers. And they can instill an almost primal sense of disgust and revulsion. Humphrey Bogart's character in the 1951 film The African Queen even went so far as to call them "filthy little devils."

But the humble leech is making a comeback. This critter is increasingly playing a key role as a sidekick for scientists and doctors, simply by being its bloodthirsty self.

Distant cousins of the earthworm, most leech species are parasites that feed on the blood of animals and humans alike. They are often found in freshwater and navigate either by swimming or inching themselves along, using two suckers — one at each end of their body — to anchor themselves. Most species range from about a quarter inch to three inches in length.

Upon reaching an unsuspecting host, a leech will surreptitiously attach itself and begin to feed. It uses a triangular set of three teeth to cut in, and secretes a suite of chemicals to thin the blood and numb the skin so its presence goes undetected.

Some leech species can also live on land, thriving in humid environments like the forests of southern Asia. Biologists recently reported that leeches in that region can provide a valuable snapshot of which animals are present in a particular area: The parasites carry their host's blood, and DNA, within their gut after each meal.

Leeches clamp on to their host with their front sucker, then use three teeth to cut in and start feeding.
Leeches clamp on to their host with their front sucker, then use three teeth to cut in and start feeding.

"They find things you don't find," said Michael Tessler, a postdoctoral scholar at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. As an added bonus (depending on your perspective), leeches are also attracted to humans as potential blood meals, he said. Thus, the creatures do not shy away from researchers, making sample collection quick and easy.

Tessler and several colleagues gathered 750 terrestrial leeches in the genus Haemadipsa from Cambodia, Bangladesh and southern China. Then, they analyzed the DNA from each inch-long leech's meal to identify the unwitting blood donors. With this analysis, the scientists were able to identify wild and domestic animals common in those areas, including some species of concern for conservation.

The study also revealed a few surprises. Some leech meals had come from a few bird species, and one came from a bat. "Clearly these things get around," Tessler said.

Beyond their utility in field biology, leeches have an important role to play in a surgeon's medical kit.

The association between doctors and leeches dates back to the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks. According to Greek philosophers, illness was the result of an imbalance in bodily fluids, or humors. They believed that applying leeches to patients would help restore a proper balance. Leeches were widely used as a cure-all for an array of ailments, especially in medieval Europe.

These practices were relegated to the status of quackery by the advent of modern medicine in the 20th century as doctors developed new, more effective treatments. Nowadays, however, medical leeches are experiencing a renaissance as their bloodsucking ability is tuned to a more scientific purpose.

Leeches come in handy during reconstructive surgeries, such as those to reattach fingers, according to Dr. Rudolf Buntic, a hand surgeon and director of microsurgery for California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. During such a procedure, surgeons repair small arteries that carry blood into the severed digit. However, the tiny veins that carry blood back out may be too damaged or too small to repair, leaving blood to stagnate in the finger.

That's when Hirudo medicinalis comes in.

"The leech acts as a vein," said Buntic.

It draws stale blood out of the reattached finger as it feeds, allowing fresh, oxygenated blood to come in. Chemicals in the leech's saliva also help prevent blood clots from forming in the damaged tissue. Doctors apply fresh leeches over the course of about ten days. This provides enough time for new, tiny veins to regrow and create channels for blood to leave the patient's finger on its own, Buntic said.

Throughout the treatment, surgeons order leeches from the pharmacy, just as they would any other medicine.

If these little guys still give you the heebie-jeebies, don't worry: They probably won't be showing up at your local drugstore anytime soon, as they're primarily used in hospitals.

When surgeons request medical leeches, pharmacists at California Pacific Medical Center answer the call, wrangling the leeches into
When surgeons request medical leeches, pharmacists at California Pacific Medical Center answer the call, wrangling the leeches into "pill" bottles. 

You might run into them in some research labs, however. David Weisblat, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has been studying leech development and evolution for more than 40 years. He's recently started a project to learn more about leech behavior and neurobiology.

This involves placing the leeches onto a checkerboard of sorts, made of sandpaper. The squares alternate between rough and smooth grains. Many of the leeches, small snail-hunters in the genus Helobdella, have a strong preference for the smoother squares, moving in strictly diagonal patterns.

"It's like a little pawn on the chessboard that's gone crazy," Weisblat said.

Though leeches may have an unimpressive nervous system by vertebrate standards, they are still capable of using information from their environment to make decisions, said Weisblat. And figuring out how this process works is easier in a leech than in the nervous system of mice or rats. In understanding how leeches find their way around with so few neurons, we can begin to understand how the nervous system processes and encodes information, Weisblat said.

Capturing the way leeches sense and move through their environment could also one day translate to bioengineering applications, like designing small, exploratory robotics, said Weisblat. "Leeches can go on glass surfaces, crawling with their suckers, and exploring all sorts of different ways," he said.

"It's pretty amazing, when you think about how simple they are."

Emma Hiolski is a freelance science journalist and intern with KQED's Deep Look video series. Her work has appeared in Science, Chemical & Engineering News and The San Jose Mercury News. You can find her on Twitter @EHiolski.

Original Article can be found here.

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Once dismissed as quackery, medical leeches are back for blood

Once dismissed as quackery, medical leeches are back for blood

For thousands of years before modern science-based medicine became the norm, bloodletting, frequently by leeches, was considered something of a medical cure-all. The treatment’s persistence was at least partially attributable to the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates’ ‘four humours’ theory of disease, which held that illness was the result of an imbalance of the bodily fluids black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. With the rise of modern scientific medicine near the end of the 18th century, bloodletting leeches were relegated to the quack cabinet as doctors realised that the practice generally fixed very little, leaving patients weak and vulnerable from blood loss. But as this video from the science and nature documentary series Deep Look shows (in occasionally graphic, ultra-HD detail that is, perhaps, not for the squeamish), medical leeches have made a surprising comeback in hospitals, especially during reconstructive surgeries. Learn more about this video at the KQED Science website.

Video by KQED Science and PBS Digital Studios

Producer and Writer: Josh Cassidy

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

Original Article can be found here.

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Leech Facts: Medicinal Leech Hirudotherapy FAQ

Leech Facts: Medicinal Leech Hirudotherapy FAQ

1. Will Leech Therapy help with my Medical Condition?

Leeches have been widely-used as a "panacea" treatment since ancient times. They are helpful in almost all diseases, conditions and symptoms. In rare cases, there are contra-indications against the use of medical leeches. But whatever your illness, it is worth while to try leech treatment as it is a natural remedy, a non-invasive therapy method, often times it can save you from having an operation and in some cases it saves lives. 

2. How Many Hirudo Leeches do I need, to treat my Disease?

Leeches have been used since ancient times, not invented by us humans nor do we impart any innovation into their work. Leeches are the healers and the doctors and not man. This fact has proven itself over the span of centuries. For starters, we recommend placement of 10 leeches on targeted points of your body. This is done, so as not to overload the bloodstream with too much hirudin on the first session. After the first session of 10 medicinal Hirudo Leeches,, therapy should continue by placing medical leeches equal to your body weight in kilos, divided by ten, on a weekly basis.  Over the course of several months, execute this leech therapy as described,  will perform the job of healing and bloodletting and will have . Of course you can put many more depending on your situation and needs. The maximum that is admissible in one session is 40-50 leeches. Most modern trends in Hirudotherapy apply even groups of 50 to 60 leeches session in chronic and severe cases this number leeches are placed in designated locations disease or only in one place.

3. Where to apply Medical Leeches for each Illness?

This is the most difficult question in Hirudotherapy. Basically, there are acupuncture points in the body along the meridians for each separate entity. Meridians that govern the activities of the body. The energy that moves along the meridians and collected in acupuncture points is one that is stimulated by leeches' therapy. Treatment with leeches, body parts of their placement and other typical hirudotherapy specificities take a lifetime to learn and master. We have created a library of informative videos about hirudotherapy in certain diseases.

4. I Wish to Order Hirudo Medicinalis Leeches. How do I find a Leech Seller?

Click to order order your medical leeches Online. Leeches are shipped weekly to destinations Worldwide.

5. How Does the Payment for Leeches Work?

Medical leeches can be paid for by Credit Card, Debit Card, PayPal or Bank Transfer. Leech orders are placed on a dispatch list and shipped twice a week to their worldwide destinations. The Hirudo leaches almost always arrive alive safe and sound. Leeches take 2-3 days to arrive to your address and they can survive up to 7 day trip and if properly packaged, leeches CAN live up to 10 days in shipping containers!

6. Can I Consult with a Specialist About my Disease and the Specifics of my Health Situation?

You can arrange a leech therapy consultation here. Experts are available to advise you on any specific and personal question you may have regarding how you feel and the symptoms of your condition. Leech Treatment consultations are a good way to start your hirudotherapy journey towards healing. Besides asking about your health and disease prevention, you may also consult with our specialist and question them about breeding & raising bloodsucking leeches in a small hirudotherapy farm or becoming a home-based leech breeder, as well as have the opportunity to learn and ask questions about how to keep leeches as pets.

7. Are Medicinal Leeches Used in Veterinary Medicine?

If you have a horse, dog, cat, sheep, goats, cattle, you can successfully perform Hirudotherapy on your farm animals or house pets. You may want to consult with our leech experts first. 

8. I Think I Need a Hirudotherapist to Apply my Leeches!

You can arrange a hirudotherapy appointment here and a leech consultation here. Treatment with leeches is very special activity that takes years to learn and master. It is an art in itself and is not for everyone. Many people feel confident that they themselves can implement leech treatment with the clinical bloodsuckers, whereas others need the services of a professional in this field. Although the price of a leech would triple, as treatment with leeches is a luxury that not everyone can afford, for certain patients Hirudotherapy is the only answer. 

9. Leeches have been Extensively Used in Medicine.

The hospital systems worldwide orders approximately 20 000 HIrudo Medisinalis leeches, to treat surgery patients after operations. Leaches are used to drain the excess accumulated blood and lymphatic fluid after a surgery operation. Health systems the world over, serving patients have implemented the use of leeches in their methods of treatment protocols and in some countries they are prized as high as the top healers themselves. Our company receives leech orders for medical leeches worldwide. Should you delay your leech order even by single week, this may cost you the worsening of your health condition, which can lead to serious consequences.

10. Does it Hurt to get Bitten by a Leech?

Leech bites are not painful. Some compare him with a weak current, others with mosquito bites, third, feel that it mimics the feeling of tingling sensation with a small needle. Your clinical leech biting is not at all a painful sensation, some even find the feeling enjoyable. After the first few minutes, the sensation completely disappears, as the leech injects its hirudin into your bloodstream, along with its antiseptic pain relieving substances and leech saliva components.

11. How do You Care for Bloodsucking Hirudo Leeches?

Leeches are cared for relatively easily. The most important thing is their water needs to be changed weekly and they are not kept in a hot location or exposed to direct sunlight. Leeches kept in clean tap water will live to up to a year, unfed. The medicinal leech Hirudo Medicinalis feeds only on blood of mammals and does not "eat" anything else!

12. How Soon can I repeat My Leech Treatment?

Leeches can be reapplied as early as four days after the first treatment or as much as 25 days apart.

13. Can I Re-Use my Leeches?

Leeches are not known to transmit infectious or disease, because they do not have the back-valves that other insects have (such as mosquitoes & flies). Nevertheless, it is not advisable to use leeches on anybody else after the first therapy session. After the leech has digested its first portion of blood that it has sucked from you in approximately 3 to 6 months, depending on the size of the leech, it will be ready to suck again. In medicine, leeches are considered medical instruments and are killed, immediately following therapy. If you disagree with this treatment of live animals and find it an inhumaine treatment, you may choose to care for your leeches and raise them as house pets. Some people re-use and re-apply their leeches on themselves, as soon as they are ready to suck blood again.

14. Where do Your Leeches Come from? Are they Certified?

Our company has a contractual relationships with the most renowned European bio-farms for medicinal leeches. All of the bio-farm production that we stock is certified and thus suitable to be used in a clinical setting. Certificates belong to the bio-farm producers and are issued by that State in which the farm is based. Leech production certificates are proprietary documents and not usually available to the general public. Leeches.com is a worldwide distributor of medical-grade premium quality leeches. 

15. How Long do Leeches Drink Blood?

Blood-sucking clinical leeches need approximately 20-45 minutes to drink all the blood they need for one meal. This is also the duration of a leech therapy session with a professional hirudotherapist. If the patient's blood circulation of the patient is slow and stagnant, hirudo leeches will take longer to finish the bloodsucking process. The leech needs additional 10-15 minutes to suck from such patients. Leeches fall alone by itself when filled with blood.


16. I am a Hirudoterapist and I run Leech Spa or Studio for Hirudotherapy. Can we Work together or Collaborate?

Our collaboration with leech therapy studios and spas dates back to 2013. We work alongside managers of cosmetic and hirudotherapy leech clinic and health leech spas to bring the best deals and specials for the establishment you run. We offer spa center owners and mangers to to take advantage of the special discount package and wholesale prices. We also cooperate together on several consultancy levels to provide our the patients services and advice with regards to their leech therapy options. Our specialists provide a professional expertise and literature to the attention of the patient as well as a special discount to the spa patients.

We also provide FREE advertising space on Leeches.com for any Hirudotherapist, practicing from all over the world. We invite every leech healer of professional and non-professional standing, to advertise their services. Our advertising space is completely Free and all you need is to prepare a unique one-page summary of your experience with leeches, accompanied by a picture of yourself, your premises or your leeches and we will post your ad on Leeches.com for free. Contact us here to advertise hirudotherapy for free on Leeches.com

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Reproductive biology and ecological strategies of three species of medicinal Hirudo leeches

Reproductive biology and ecological strategies of three species of medicinal Hirudo leeches

Journal of Natural History

Vol. 45, Nos. 11–12, March 2011, 737–747

Reproductive biology and ecological strategies of three species of medicinal leeches (genus Hirudo)

Laima Petrauskiene ̇a, Olga Utevskab and Serge Utevskyc*

aInstitute of Ecology, Nature Research Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania; bDepartment of Genetics and Cytology, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine; cDepartment of Zoology and Animal Ecology, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine

(Received 9 May 2010; final version received 26 October 2010; printed 4 February 2011)

An analysis of the reproduction of three species of medicinal leeches (genus Hirudo) was carried out. The highest fecundity (34.34 ± 3.72 hatchlings per leech) was observed in H. verbana, the lowest in H. medicinalis (11.10 ± 2.56). The heav- iest hatchlings were found in H. medicinalis (0.046 ± 0.0005 g), the lightest in H. verbana (0.032 ± 0.0003 g). Hirudo orientalis had an intermediate fecundity (21.63 ± 3.39 hatchlings per leech) and its hatchlings were of intermediate weight (0.038 ± 0.0005 g). The species differ in their growth rate and mortality: Hirudo ver- bana had the smallest hatchlings and the lowest survivorship but its growth rate was highest among the three species. The results agree with sister relationships between H. medicinalis and H. orientalis and the basal position of H. verbana with respect to them. The reproductive traits of the three species suggest that H. verbana is an r-strategist that inhabits unstable environments, such as temporary ponds in steppe landscapes, whereas its congeners are subject to K-selection and occur in more stable and predictable habitats.

Keywords: Hirudo medicinalis; Hirudo verbana; Hirudo orientalis; breeding; repro- ductive traits.


The medicinal leeches (Hirudo spp.) have been applied in medicine for centuries (Phillips and Siddall 2009) and used as model organisms in various fields of the life sciences (Utevsky and Trontelj 2005; Petrauskiene ̇ 2008). During this long history, medicinal leeches were usually assigned to the species Hirudo medicinalis Linnaeus, 1758, but recently their taxonomic status has been revised dramatically. To date, it is generally accepted that four distinct species of the genus Hirudo H. medicinalis Linnaeus, 1758, H. orientalis Utevsky and Trontelj 2005, H. verbana Carena, 1820 and H. troctina Johnston, 1810 – range through the western Palaearctic. Species sta- tus for these taxa has been corroborated by morphological differences (Nesemann and Neubert 1999; Utevsky and Trontelj 2005), random amplified polymorphic DNA molecular markers (Trontelj et al. 2004), nuclear and mitochondrial gene sequences (Trontelj and Utevsky 2005; Utevsky and Trontelj 2005) and both mitochondrial gene sequences and nuclear microsatellites (Siddall et al. 2007). These species also differ in their vicariant geographical distribution (Nesemann and Neubert 1999; Utevsky et al. 2010), biochemical composition of saliva (Baskova et al. 2008) and chromosome

*Corresponding author. Email: sutevsk@univer.kharkov.ua

ISSN 0022-2933 print/ISSN 1464-5262 online © 2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/00222933.2010.535918 http://www.informaworld.com

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738 L. Petrauskiene ̇ et al.

numbers (Utevsky et al. 2009). The western Palaearctic species of Hirudo can inter- breed in aquaculture, but substantial reproductive barriers have been detected between them (Petrauskiene ̇ et al. 2009).

More recent investigations have revealed preferences of the four species of medic- inal leeches for different landscape types (Utevsky et al. 2010). Hirudo medicinalis occupies the deciduous arboreal zone of Europe. The range of H. verbana largely corresponds to the Mediterranean and sub-boreal steppe zones in Europe, Anatolia and Central Asia, whereas H. orientalis is associated with mountainous areas in the sub-boreal eremial zone and occurs in Transcaucasian countries, Iran and Central Asia. Hirudo troctina has been found in northwestern Africa and Spain in the Mediterranean zone.

The different environmental conditions suggest substantial eco-physiological dif- ferences between the species. Some autecological features of the medicinal leeches have been found. In her pioneering research, Zapkuviene ̇ (1972a) revealed distinct temper- ature optima for cocoon deposition in H. medicinalis and H. verbana (H. medicinalis f. serpentina and H. medicinalis f. officinalis respectively in the original publication). Hirudo medicinalis starts laying cocoons at temperatures 2S lower than in H. verbana (Zapkuviene ̇ 1972a). Such a difference may lead to different phenologies in nature, e.g. an earlier start to reproduction of H. medicinalis in habitats with a sympatric occur- rence of H. medicinalis and H. verbana. When living in the same habitat (see Utevsky et al. 2010), the species may tend to be reproductively isolated by the different temper- ature optima in a kind of ecological isolation (see Coyne and Orr 2004). The length of the season favourable to reproduction and the type of water bodies (temporary or sta- tionary) are conditions that, at least in part, determine fecundity and juvenile growth rate. Zapkuviene ̇ (1972a) previously found some differences in fecundities and growth rates of H. medicinalis and H. verbana. Obviously, different environmental conditions lead to divergent biological properties of related species.

This research aims to reveal differences in fecundity, growth rate and survival rate in H. medicinalis, H. orientalis and H. verbana and to correlate these with their ecological preferences.

Materials and methods


Fifty individuals of H. medicinalis, 40 individuals of H. verbana and 40 individu- als of H. orientalis were used in breeding experiments. All leeches were more than 14 months old, and were therefore mature (Zapkuviene ̇ 1972b). The H. medicinalis originated from a commercial aquaculture facility in Moscow (Russian Federation) and from ponds in the vicinity of Vasyshcheve (Kharkiv Region, Ukraine). The H. ori- entalis were purchased in a pharmacy in Kharkiv, although it is known that they came from Azerbaijan. Hirudo verbana were obtained from the commercial aqua- culture facility in Moscow; they were probably descended from leeches collected in the Krasnodar Territory (Russian Federation), which is a traditional area for the commercial harvesting of medicinal leeches (see Lukin 1976).

Other factors that can influence fecundity were excluded. It has long been known that the number of hatchlings per cocoon depends on the size of the maternal individ- ual (Sineva 1949). In our experiment, the average weights were 9.81 ± 0.62 g (range 3.05–19.36 g) for H. verbana, 10.33 ± 0.51 g (6.52–13.72 g) for H. medicinalis and

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Journal of Natural History 739

9.26 ± 0.83 g (4.00–18.72 g) for H. orientalis. An analysis of variance showed that there were no significant differences between the weights of the leeches in these three groups and as a result the impact of the size of maternal individual on fecundity was excluded.


To explore fecundities and other biological traits of H. verbana, H. medicinalis and H. orientalis, breeding experiments were carried out. The leeches were kept and bred according to methods already used by several workers (Zapkuviene ̇ 1972a; Wilkin and Scofield 1991; Davies and McLoughlin 1996; Utevskaya 1998; Petrauskiene ̇ et al. 2009). All adult leeches were kept singly in 1-litre pots with dechlorinated water for 1 month before mating. After that, leeches were fed with bovine or porcine blood in sausage casings at 37C, and placed in pairs for copulation for 1 month more. The temperature was increased to 25C to stimulate copulation.

After the 1-month period for copulation, the leeches were kept individually in con- tainers with wet peat for another month for cocoon deposition. Cocoons were then collected from the peat. The cocoons were counted and the percentage of leeches that laid cocoons was calculated. Some leeches died before placing cocoons in the peat, some died in the peat, and so the percentage of fertile leeches was calculated from the number of leeches that survived in the peat. Every cocoon was placed into its own separate container, and containers were checked daily for 1 month to determine when hatchlings left cocoons. Hatchlings were counted for all mating pairs. If the young leeches did not escape from cocoons after 1 month, cocoons were opened and any live leeches found in these cocoons were counted as hatchlings as well.


The weight of hatchlings was determined immediately after they left the cocoons and after each feeding. Five feedings were performed (at 2, 5, 11, 20 and 36 weeks after hatching). Hatchling weights were measured 2–3 weeks after feeding to provide leeches with an opportunity to remove water and salt ions associated with the blood meal. Medicinal leeches begin to concentrate ingested blood immediately after feed- ing (Boroffka 1968; Zerbst-Boroffka 1973; Wenning 1996); during the 2 weeks after the feeding period they lose 40–50% of their weight, but their weight subsequently stabilizes (Büsing et al. 1953; Zebe et al. 1986; Petrauskiene ̇ 2001, 2004). The leeches were fed with fresh bovine or porcine blood as described above. All groups received the same kind of blood at one time.

Dead hatchlings were counted every day and mortality was expressed as a percentage of the initial number of hatchlings.

Statistical methods

Differences between various experimental groups were determined using Mann– Whitney U-tests (central tendency comparisons) and F-tests (percentage compar- isons). As three groups were compared, the significance level for multiple comparisons (p) was 0.017 after Bonferroni adjustment (p= p/k = 0.05/3 = 0.017, where p is the significance level for a single comparison, pis the significance level for multiple

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740 L. Petrauskiene ̇ et al.
comparisons, and k is the number of pair comparisons). This method was used for

all traits.



The results of breeding experiments are summarized in Table 1. The highest fecundity was found in H. verbana, the lowest in H. medicinalis.

The percentage of H. verbana that laid cocoons was 91.43%, which did not differ significantly from the percentage, 82.35%, found in H. orientalis. In H. medic- inalis this value was 37.50%, less than half as much as in the other two species and these differences (between H. medicinalis and the other two species) were significant (p< 0.017).

Other indices of reproductive ability – number of cocoons per leech that survived in the peat and number of hatchlings per cocoon – were also highest in H. verbana and lowest in H. medicinalis with significant (p< 0.017) differences between them. Hirudo orientalis and H. medicinalis were significantly (p< 0.017) different only in the number of hatchlings per cocoon.

The total number of hatchlings per leech that survived in the peat was highest in H. verbana and lowest in H. medicinalis, while H. orientalis had an intermediate value and all the differences were significant (p< 0.017). However, differences for number of cocoons and number of hatchlings calculated from leeches that deposited cocoons were insignificant.

Weight and growth

The weight of hatchlings was highest in H. medicinalis (0.046 ± 0.0005 g) and lowest in H. verbana (0.032 ± 0.0003 g). The weight of H. orientalis hatchlings was intermediate (0.038 ± 0.0005 g). The differences between all groups were significant (p< 0.017).

The three species had different types of hatchling weight distribution (Figure 1). The distribution of H. verbana had the maximum frequency towards the lower weights with a tail towards high values, whereas the distributions of H. medicinalis and H. orientalis were more symmetrical.

Juveniles received five blood meals over 9 months. Their weight increased and reached 2.47 ± 0.11 g in H. medicinalis, 2.55 ± 0.08 g in H. verbana and 2.74 ± 0.09 g in H. orientalis. Although mean hatchling weight of the three species varied significantly immediately after hatching, these differences were not significant after nine months. Small juveniles of H. verbana were similar in weight to those of H. medicinalis and H. orientalis.

The growth curves (Figure 2) demonstrate that H. medicinalis and H. orientalis had similar patterns of growth, whereas H. verbana initially lagged behind the other two species although its growth rate subsequently increased and caught up. After five blood meals, the body weight of H. medicinalis went up by a factor of 54, H. orientalis by 72 and H. verbana by 79.

Survival rate

Eight months after hatching, 11.06% of H. verbana leeches had died, 2.45% of H. ori- entalis had died and 7.71% of H. medicinalis had died. The survival curves of the three

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Journal of Natural History 741

Table 1. Reproductive traits of three Hirudo species.


No. of leeches

% of leeches deposited cocoons

No. of cocoons per leech (all leeches)

No. of hatchlings per cocoon

No. of cocoons per leech (deposited cocoons)

No. of hatchlings per leech (all leeches)

No. of hatchlings per leech (deposited cocoons)

Hirudo verbana Hirudo orientalis Hirudo medicinalis

35 34 48

91.43 ± 4.73 82.35 ± 6.54 37.50 ± 6.99

3.29 ± 0.277 2.53 ± 0.356 1.65 ± 0.366

10.45 ± 0.710 8.55 ± 0.592 6.73 ± 0.434

3.59 ± 0.291 3.07 ± 0.393 4.39 ± 0.599

34.34 ± 3.72 21.63 ± 3.39 11.10 ± 2.56

36.25 ± 3.56 26.29 ± 4.14 31.29 ± 3.63

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742 L. Petrauskiene ̇ et al.

H. verbana


Weight, mg

H. orientails


Weight, mg

H. medicinalis


Weight, mg

Figure 1. The hatchling weight distribution of three Hirudo species. (A) Hirudo verbana; (B) Hirudo orientalis; (C) Hirudo medicinalis.

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Percent of individuals Percent of individuals Percent of individuals

Journal of Natural History 743

Number of meals

Figure 2. Growth curves of three Hirudo species demonstrating that H. medicinalis and H. orientalis had similar patterns of growth, whereas H. verbana initially lagged behind the other two species but its growth rate subsequently increased and caught up.

Hirudo species (Figure 3) demonstrate similar survival patterns in H. orientalis and H. medicinalis. The juveniles of H. verbana faced a high mortality for the first months after hatching.

The different rates of survival resulted in the highest total number of adult off- spring per leech that survived in the peat in H. verbana (30.54 ± 3.31) and the lowest number in H. medicinalis (10.24 ± 2.36), while H. orientalis had an intermediate value (21.10 ± 3.31). All differences were significant (p< 0.017). The numbers of adult off- spring per fertile leech were 33.41 ± 3.46, 27.33 ± 3.85 and 25.61 ± 3.65 in H. verbana, H. medicinalis and H. orientalis, respectively. These values did not differ significantly.


Differences and similarities among Hirudo species

The breeding experiment demonstrated that Hirudo species differ in their reproduc- tive characteristics. Differences were found in many fecundity traits: the proportion of

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Weight, g

744 L. Petrauskiene ̇ et al.

Months after hatching

Figure 3. Survival rates of Hirudo species demonstrating similar survival patterns in H. orien- talis and H. medicinalis and a higher mortality in H. verbana.

leeches that laid cocoons, the number of cocoons, and the number of hatchlings cal- culated from individuals that survived in the peat. The highest fecundity was observed in H. verbana, the lowest in H. medicinalis. On the other hand, the heaviest hatch- lings were found in H. medicinalis, whereas H. verbana produced the smallest juveniles. Hirudo orientalis had intermediate fecundity, and its hatchlings were intermediate in size. The species also differed in their growth rate and mortality. Hirudo verbana had the smallest hatchlings and the lowest survivorship, but its growth rate was highest among the three species.

Two of the species, H. medicinalis and H. orientalis, bear a great resemblance to each other in a number of traits. They demonstrated similarities in distribution of hatchling weight and in growth and survival rates. This result agrees with the sister relationship of H. medicinalis and H. orientalis and the basal position of H. verbana

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Survival, %

Journal of Natural History 745

in relation to them as revealed by a phylogenetic analysis (Trontelj and Utevsky 2005; cf. Phillips and Siddall 2009). The same pattern of relationships was deduced from external morphology (Utevsky and Trontelj 2005) and biochemical composition of saliva (Baskova et al. 2008).

Life strategies of Hirudo species

The results demonstrate that H. verbana has the highest fecundity and juvenile mor- tality and small juvenile body size, whereas H. medicinalis and H. orientalis have the opposite characteristics. Though numbers of cocoons, hatchlings and adult off- spring calculated per fertile leech do not differ significantly, the percentage of fertile individuals is significantly lower in H. medicinalis in comparison with its congeners. This suggests greater selection for mate choice and lower tolerance to aquaculture conditions in H. medicinalis. The two distinct patterns of reproduction and post- embryonic development should be assigned to r-strategies and K-strategies, respec- tively. Hirudo verbana may be characterized as an r-strategist that inhabits unstable environments, such as temporary ponds in arid steppe landscapes (Utevsky et al. 2008, 2010). Its high fecundity and small juvenile body size are traits that have been shaped by r-selection. Conversely, H. medicinalis produces fewer juveniles with larger body sizes and lower mortality rates. Obviously, this species is subject to K-selection. Hirudo orientalis occupies an intermediate position between the two strategies or verges towards H. medicinalis. Both live in more stable and predictable environments including static ponds and lakes of the arboreal zone in Europe and mountainous landscapes of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Different life strategies of the three Hirudo species may be responsible for asym- metric patterns of the reproductive isolation between them (see Petrauskiene ̇ et al. 2009). Hirudo verbana and H. orientalis were more fertile in interspecific crosses than H. medicinalis. Being fertilized by other species, H. verbana and H. orientalis showed a moderate decrease in fecundity, which was caused by the decrease of hybrid offspring fitness: low weight, slow growth and high mortality. The third species, H. medicinalis, had the lowest fecundity in the hybrid crosses. In crosses with H. verbana, H. medic- inalis did not yield adult offspring and in matings with H. orientalis the number of adult offspring was fewer than in intraspecific crosses by a factor of five.

We suppose that the asymmetric pattern of reproductive isolation may be caused by different life strategies of these species. As a K-strategist, H. medicinalis is more discriminating in mating and a possible loss in fitness is more substantial in the case of a wrong choice compared with species that produce more offspring. That explains why natural selection prevents the hybridization of H. medicinalis with individuals of other species.

On the other hand, H. verbana, as an r-strategist, has more numerous offspring. A possible loss in fitness would not be so critical in this species when mating with indi- viduals of another species compared with the K-selected H. medicinalis. Consequently, in H. verbana isolating barriers are not very strict.

The r-selected features of H. verbana suggest that this species is most suitable for breeding in aquaculture compared with other medicinal leeches, which are adapted to the specific conditions of their natural habitats. Indeed, recently it has been found that leeches marketed as H. medicinalis are actually H. verbana (Siddall et al. 2007). In spite of the fact that viable populations of H. medicinalis still persist in Europe, it

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746 L. Petrauskiene ̇ et al.

is H. verbana that is sold by commercial facilities and widely used in medicine as an effective remedy and in neurobiology as a model organism (Siddall et al. 2007) because of its ability to tolerate artificial conditions.


This research was supported by INTAS grant no. 05-1000008-8147 “The medicinal leech (Hirudo spp.), famous and unknown: taxonomy, conservation, and medical applications.”


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Leech Therapy Readiness. Hirudotherapy Procedures at Home.

Leech Therapy Readiness. Hirudotherapy Procedures at Home.

    It is a good idea to acquire some basic understand of leeches, leech therapy and the concept of bloodletting. This is best done by watching some of your favorite leech therapist’s educational videos on leeches. With this knowledge and basic understanding, you will be capable of making an educated choice regarding your leech therapy options.

    Find a leech therapy practitioner in your area.

    Make sure he / she can and will travel to your home to perform the hirudotherapy

    Once terms are agreed and leech therapy appointment is set, be sure to get ready for your therapy session.

    When your leech therapist arrives at your home, be sure to provide them clear access to the bathroom, as they will need to change leech water. Due to the long travel over several hours, leeches would have experienced a certain amount of stress and would have released certain amounts of secretion into the water, which will need to be changed immediately upon arrival. Your hirudotherapy healer will also need to wash their hands and prepare themselves hygienically, for the therapy to come. Make sure you have all necessary toiletries in your bathroom, for them to do so.

    As leacher and leeches are ready to begin, you will be asked to show the place you have chosen for your therapy. Upon seeing it, they may or may not make different suggestions or recommendations. If the place of therapy is suitable, they will ask to see if all other preparations are in place.

    You will have had to purchase either kitchen towels or tissues and or Kleenex tissue paper. The hirudotherapist will need this paper to constantly wipe off the secreting leeches as well as the oozing blood after therapy. Make sure you prepare ample amounts of absorbent wiping papers for this purpose beforehand.

    There needs to be an empty trash bin in the room, lined with a trash bag, which bin will get filled up quickly with those used-up tissue papers.

    The leeches therapy professional will also ask you to make the room warm and comfortable for them to work in. Be sure to have a heating on.

    Since leeches require peaceful and calm environments to effectively do their clinical work, there will need to be complete silence in the room. Any distraction will deter the optional function of the leeches. Ensure that there are no working TVs or Radios in the therapy room you have decided to use. Ensure also that there are no noisy or curious relatives around, who will comment out loud on the therapy procedure and will distract the leeches and the therapist in their work. Do not talk endlessly to the hirudotherapist, asking them questions or various sorts. They need complete and absolute silence to work in. If there is anyone else present in the room, be sure to instruct them to remain silent during the Leech Therapy session and provide their assistance to the hirudo therapist, as needed.

    Ensure there is at least one open window in the room, so as to provide  a fresh air environment for the leeches and leech therapist to work in. Fresh air is closest to their natural environment and leeches will do a better job when they are made to feel comfortable.

    Ensure all windows, curtains and blinds are pulled away from the windows and the room is flooded with natural lighting. Your hirudotherpist cannot work in the dark or artificial lighting conditions, as they will require the maximum amount of natural lighting to accomplish their job and aid the curative functions of the leeches they have brought with them.

    All smells, fragrances and odors of any kind must be absolutely eliminated from the working environment of the leeches. Leeches do not bite when they smell soap, perfume, colon, deodorant, room fresher, shampoo or lotion. It is best to take out all smells from the room, and not take a shower at least 24 hours prior to therapy. Leeches can work with sweaty body but they cannot work with a perfumed body or in an aromatized room.

    Prepare a pack of heavy-duty feminine pads, the kind used by women, when they are on their monthly cycle. Bandages or plasters cannot contain the 10-hour blood oozing that will take place after leech therapy and the draining out of lymphatic fluids. You may also buy a pack of baby swim pants or incontinence pads for the elderly, if you are having more than 10 leeches applied on your skin and you think you might need them. Vaginal leeching inside the vagina will definitely require one of the more heavier types of pads.

    Masking tape is another handy wound dressing item to have, to help you do your own bandaging after the therapy session. Although it is not a requirement for therapy, it will be beneficial to have, because once the hirudotherapist leaves your home, you will be left to dress the leech bite yourself.

    Prepare one or more large old towels  to lay on, during and after leech therapy. Your towel will come in very handy, when your 10-hour post-therapy blood oozing begins, after your hirudotherapist has left. You may even choose to wrap yourself in that towel, to help absorb the oozing blood. Some patients prefer using towels to bandaging materials, especially when they are staying in the house and not planning to out anywhere post-therapy.

    Prepare your leech therapy payment nearby, to hand to the therapist, before, during or after your therapy. You will need to have it ready and nearby and hand it to your leech therapy healer whenever possible, as you will experience limited mobility afterward therapy, due to the plentiful 10-hour bleeding.

    It is not a bad idea to have a quiet assistant on the side, ready to hand your leech therapist materials and supplies necessary during your therapeutic  session. This assistant must remain as quiet as possible, so as to not disturb the work of the leeches. If you manage to secure someone from your household, family or relatives to assist, your therapy will go much quicker and more efficient than usual.

    for your hirudo therapist. During the application of leeches on your body, the therapist will want to sit and rest at some point, to have a cup of tea, while waiting for the leeches to finish sucking. Ask your assistant or prepare some light drinks or refreshments for your hirudotherapist during that time. Make sure you do not shower him / her with questions and talking, so as to allow leeches to release their hirudin in peace and finish their bloodsucking job. Allow silence and peace for your therapist to enjoy refreshment while she/he takes a break in the middle of therapy, during the leech sucking phase.

    If your leech therapy professional has advised you to book another session for your particular medical condition, be sure to book your next appointment at the time of your first therapy and while your therapist is still there in the room, as to get the best available time.  Your therapist will inform you how long you must wait between sessions to have your followup leech application.

  • Now that you are finished receiving your leech therapy treatments, you can enjoy the refreshing therapeutic effects of the injected hirudin and the plentiful bloodletting and detox that just took place in your body. 
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