Wat is leech?

What is a Leech?

The word “leech” comes from the Greek word echis, which means “little snake”. For the ancient Germanic tribes, their word Blutegel meant “healer”. Healers of the Middle Ages were called “leechers” in English and “blood suckers” (sangsue) in French. The leech belongs to the biological genus of striped worms called annelids and is therefore a close relative of the earthworm. The body of the leech is relatively flat. A green stripe runs along the middle of the back. Otherwise it is divided into circular sections, often dark brown to black in colour. With the help of suction cups found on both ends of the body, leeches attach themselves to their hosts and hold on firmly. Three star-shaped jaws, arranged circularly, can be found in the front suction “mouth”, each with about 80 little calcium teeth. Exit openings are located between the teeth, and these allow the output of the medically effective secrete during sucking. The bite of the leech consists of three tiny triangularly shaped wounds which look like a Mercedes star.

European Leech Species

About fifteen leech species are used medically worldwide. Only two species are found in Europe. The identifying differences of the two species are their varying body patterns and abdominal colorations. Hirudo verbana Carena 1820 can be clearly identified by its green abdominal colouration. Hirudo medicinalis Linnaeus 1758, on the other hand, has a typical brown drop-shaped pattern on its sides. Due to colour variations, it was assumed in the past that only one genus existed and both species were mistakenly identified as Hirudo medicinalis. Both species are used today in medical treatments. Because of the intensive use of Hirudo medicinalis Linnaeus in the 19th century, Hirudo verbana Carena dominates medical application worldwide today.


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