I never thought I’d be fascinated by a leech

I’ve always been repulsed by leeches. I remember, as a kid, swimming with my family in a northern Minnesota river and my dad had a leech on him when he got out. It was black, round and left a bloody spot on his leg when he pulled it off. Yuck!

Turns out, there are many types of leeches and not all of them are bloodsucking parasites. Some eat worms, snails, insects and other invertebrates. Leeches are segmented worms that range in length from 5 millimeters to 25 centimeters, or almost 10 inches. (1.

Leeches came to my attention this summer when we were living for a few weeks in Grygla, Minn., where I grew up. My husband, our daughter and I spent several hours exploring, including at Mud River, the river a short distance from my childhood home. My husband spotted a leech swimming and suggested it would be a good topic for my blog.

Then, this weekend, we spent some time at a beach on Lake Bemidji, nearby where we live now. We spotted a long, brown and spotted leech swimming in the water. It looked nothing like the leech I remember in my childhood and was actually kind of pretty! (1. (2.

I watched it swimming gracefully through the water, stretched out long, like a small eel or extra large worm. But when I got out my camera to film it, it slowed to nearly a stop, got fat and eventually rolled over, exposing it’s lighter colored belly. (Watch my YouTube video of the leech playing dead here.) I wondered if it was playing dead and, sure enough, leeches do sometimes play dead. (1. I’m not sure, but I believe it was a ribbon leech.

While I filmed the leech, my daughter and husband continued further down the beach. They saw two crawfish and three more leeches. My kiddo was so excited to tell me all about it when they came back. There’s no doubt she’s my kid.

As I was reading up on leeches, I found an interesting 1997 Minnesota Public Radio story about a Perham, Minn., man who owned and operated a leech trapping business. (3. He talked about how the leeches he caught for fishing bait were “nice clean animals” that wouldn’t break the skin of a person even if a person got into a tank with 80 pounds of them and spent the night, naked.

Now that I know more about leeches, I won’t be so grossed out and scared of them. I’m actually pretty excited that I got a chance to see one myself and feature it at my Bug & Ugh blog. Leeches are definitely a misunderstood creature that fits well into the “ugh” part of my theme!

For more information:

(1. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Hirudinea/

(2. https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/leeches

(3. http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199707/30_engerl_leeches-m/