Japan Mountain Leech in my Shoe

This video attempts to document the manner in which Japanese Mountain Leeches (Haemadipsa zeylanica or yama-biru as they are called in Japanese) locate and acquire their blood meals. The video was shot in the mountains surrounding Shizuoka City, Japan on the main island of Honshu at an altitude of roughly 2000 feet. The place where I found the leeches was a soggy bit of ground along an active stream surrounded by tall trees where little sunlight ever falls. On two previous occasions I had been bitten by leeches after walking through this grotto. I visited the location on a cool day in early June when I though the leeches might be less active, which I hoped would give me a better chances to film a single leech with less worry of a mass leech ambush.

To attract a leech I simply stood still amidst the ground cover and waited for something to happen. I was delighted to see many interesting creatures while I waited: including a long flatworm and an ultra miniature frog. After roughly five minutes of waiting I spotting a solitary leech slowly inching its way towards me. When I first saw the leech it was roughly a meter away and making a beeline for my right foot. The animal did certainly seem to sense my presence as it did not alter its speed or course until it had climbed onto my shoe. Initially, the leech seemed frustrated by the material of my shoe and it actually took some time for it to locate a point of entry at a gap between the shoe and shoe tongue. After I removed my shoe I had a difficult time extracting the leech which held on tight with its posterior sucker. The experience made me realize just how tenacious leeches can be and how easily these animals can get to us if we drop our guard and give them a chance. Simply stopping along a trail for a few moments may provide ample time for a nearby leech to reach us; and their job is made easier still if we happen to brush against them as we walk. I was also surprised to see how difficult it was to see the leech on my shoe while standing and walking, which fact certainly gives the leech another significant advantage in their efforts to secure a blood meal at our expense.

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~ by softypapa on June 4, 2009.

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