Leeches are considered annelids (also called segmented worms) and their nearest relative is the earthworm.
The tiger leech has a long, thin body similar in appearance to a slug. A leech will vary in appearance depending on the amount of food they have consumed. Their body is colored reddish-brown along their back. Running along this is a paramedian field colored bluish gray or yellowish green and inside of this is three to five black or brown stripes.
At either end of the body is a sucker. A smaller one is located at the head end while the larger one is at the tail end.
Their body measures 1.3-3.3cm (0.51-1.3in) long.
Tiger leeches live on a diet of blood which is obtained by attaching to mammals. Prey can be detected by their small eyes or by smelling the carbon dioxide which their food sources exhale.
A leech will attach to its prey on the hand, arm, shoulder or neck. Their bite is described as painful and takes a long time to clot due to the anticoagulant which they inject in to their prey. The bite is in a Y shape due to the three jaws which they use to extract blood. This is uncomfortable but the amount of blood loss is not considered medically significant.
They are able to ingest many times their weight in blood. Digestion is slow and this allows them to survive long periods without food (potentially months at a time).
Asia is the native home of the tiger leech. Here they can be found in Borneo, Taiwan and on the mainland of south-east Asia.
They live in moist forests. Unlike most leeches which are associated with water this species is found on land. Here they attach themselves to vegetation. Younger leeches are typically found on the ground or lower down on vegetation. Older leeches which have greater strength climb up the tree. They are typically not found higher than 2m (6.6ft) as this is the tallest height of their prey items.
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Tiger leeches are hermaphrodites. During the breeding season a bulge of skin is visible known as the citellum.
A tough, gelatinous cocoon is excreted from the citellum which contains a number of nutrients. The eggs are deposited in to this cocoon. This may be buried or attached to a log or rock. This tough cocoon protects the eggs and is strong enough to survive passing through a duck.
The tiger leech spends its day waiting on vegetation for an animal to pass by. When it does they will elongate their body to grab on to the prey or drop on to it.
Predators and Threats
They are also known as the stinging land leech.
Leeches have been used in medicine for over 2000 years and are still used to this day.
The genus name of the tiger leech, Haemadipsa, means ‘blood thirst.’
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By Tim Denholm – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37061521
By Charles J Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48421693
By Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada – Haemadipsa picta, the Tiger Leech, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34449846
By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE – Tiger Leech (Haemadipsa picta), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40141977
Rooney, A. and Rose, L., n.d. Animal Atlas. Lonely Planet.
iNaturalist.ca. 2020. Tiger Leech (Haemadipsa Picta). [online] Available at: <https://inaturalist.ca/taxa/332405-Haemadipsa-picta> [Accessed 22 October 2020].
Project Noah. 2020. Tiger Leech. [online] Available at: <https://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/2134856002> [Accessed 22 October 2020].
Keo, P., 2020. Friday Fellow: Tiger Leech. [online] Earthling Nature. Available at: <https://earthlingnature.wordpress.com/2020/07/17/friday-fellow-tiger-leech/> [Accessed 22 October 2020].
The Australian Museum. 2020. Leeches. [online] Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/worms/leeches/> [Accessed 22 October 2020].
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