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Scientists just discovered something about leeches that will haunt your nightmares

Published Jun 21st, 2024 4:37PM EDT
Image: phototrip.cz / Adobe

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For decades, scientists have posed one interesting question about leeches—can they jump? While the idea of jumping leeches might sound like it’s only the stuff of nightmares—I still can’t forget those terrifying trapdoor spiders—scientists have actually confirmed that, yes, these blood-sucking little critters can indeed jump after their prey. This is also an interesting discovery that raises even more questions about these long-studied worms.

We’ve had anecdotal evidence that leeches can jump for centuries. However, it wasn’t until researcher Mai Fahmy actually captured video footage of a leech jumping from a leaf that many considered the issue “confirmed.” This particular behavior is known as “questing,” and it happens whenever a leech is searching for its next host.

The footage of the jumping leech was published as part of a new bit of research featured in Biotropica. Fahmy says that she has spent several years collecting leeches and studying them. It’s still unclear if all leeches jump or just certain species, like Chtonobdella fallax—which is seen in the video.

Of course, the jumping isn’t exactly what you’d probably expect when you first hear about it. Leeches don’t really send themselves hurtling through the air like a basketball player going for a slam dunk. Instead, they coil up and then launch themselves off of their current foothold.

Often, this happens from leaves high above their next meal, giving them a unique vantage point for hunting for their next host. It’s this vertical hunting nature of the worms that has led many to believe that they just kind of fell on their hosts. But, based on the video and this new research, it appears that at least some jumping leeches don’t simply rely on gravity to do the job.

Fahmy plans to return to Madagascar, where she captured the video, to study leeches more in-depth and learn more about the mysterious worms that played an important part in early medical endeavors.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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