Looking for leeches

We hiked long hours along the many small streams that crisscross the landscape. Leeches were difficult to come by but we made progress. Every so often the quite of the forest was broken by myself or my guide shouting vat, vat! (leech, leech!). Many of the leeches we found were on the underside of leaves and so we painstakingly turned over every large leaf we came across. After a while I started to feel like I could pick out leaves that looked particularly leechy—a sort of sixth sense if you will. But if could have been my imagination. I didn’t conduct any tests. No p-value. For actually attracting leeches I found that nothing compares with wet bare feet. Still the undisputed classic.

Jungle leech
Jungle leech 

Occasionally we would come across a leech goldmine—4 or 5 leeches on a single plant or patch of ground. I’ve seen this before when looking for leeches. Usually these hotspots are located near pig wallows or nests and that seems to be the obvious explanation for the high concentration of leeches. But on this trip that didn’t seem to be the case. I’m curious to know why leeches concentrate in these particular places. Are they concentrating in areas where mammals often crossed the stream? To what extent can leeches “select” optimal locations? There are many aspects of leech behavior that I would like to explore. I’ll think about these questions more in the future.

On a good day we got 40 leeches per day. On slower days 20 or less. This is still a far cry from the hundreds that can be collected per day in other parts of the Annamites. But I tried not to be too disappointed. As I wrote in the last post every leech collected in this landscape is precious. For those of you who read the original Schnell et al article you’ll recall that in only 25 leeches they found Annamite dark muntjac and striped rabbit—two of the most secretive mammal species in Southeast Asia. I can’t wait to see what we get in these samples.

A good day.
A productive day.

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