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Woodland Park Zoo Welcomes Birth of Leeches

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: October 29, 2020 11:20 am

leech babies woodland park zoo

The leech babies with an adult leech

Photo Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

The newest arrivals at Woodland Park Zoo may not be as cute as some other species born during this year’s baby boom but they are still exciting arrivals for the zoo.

Approximately 30 medicinal leeches (keepers report they are very hard to count) have been born. It will take two to three years for them to reach their adult size of 15cm (6in).

Woodland Park Zoo took the adult leeches in to their care four years ago after they were confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from an individual who had attempted to smuggle them in to the US from Russia.

Earlier in 2020 the zoo added another 22 adult leeches to the group from a US breeder.

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“Woodland Park Zoo works closely with wildlife agencies as a partner for consultation and providing a safe home for reptiles, spiders, and other animals on a case-by-case basis, and in this case, leeches,” said Erin Sullivan, an animal care manager at Woodland Park Zoo. “We’re very excited about the newest members to our zoo family!”

These aren’t the only creepy, crawly additions bought to Woodland Park Zoo after being confiscated. Two years ago they provided a home for 250 tarantula spiderlings.

Medicinal leeches are not often kept by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). “Since medicinal leeches are not a species commonly found in AZA-accredited organizations, we are currently trying to collect data on who has them, who is breeding them and who would like them for educational programs,” said Sullivan. “So far, we have already had interest in our leech hatchlings from other AZA organizations who would like to have them on exhibit.”

“We feed our leeches blood-filled sausages by filling natural sausage casings with beef blood, tying the ends and warming them up to about 100˚F. We then let the leeches go to town!” said animal keeper Megan Blandford. They don’t need to be fed often. “After an initial feeding immediately after hatching, the leeches will be fed only four times a year. But in the wild they regularly go an entire year without eating!”

leech babies woodland park zoo

Some of the baby medicinal leeches

Photo Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Despite evoking a fear factor in many the leech remains an important tool for medical professionals. The saliva of a leech contains hirudin, a natural anticoagulant to prevent blood clots. This keeps blood flowing to a wound so it can heal easier.

Currently they are used in surgeries such as plastic surgery, microsurgery, grafting and constructive surgery.

Learn more about Woodland Park Zoo here – Woodland Park Zoo

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