Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leeches, Teeth, and Science

"T. Rex of Leeches Has Enormous Teeth"
LiveScience (April 14, 2010)

"A new T. rex of the leech world has been named — one with ferociously large teeth, but only a tiny body and just one jaw.

This new leech species, Tyrannobdella rex, which means "tyrant leech king," was first discovered three years ago in the nostril of a 9-year-old girl by Peruvian physician Renzo Arauco-Brown. The child frequently bathed in lakes, rivers and streams in the Amazonian part of Peru and had felt a sliding sensation in the back of her nose.

Two earlier cases from 1997 were re-discovered from different clinics in the western Amazon....
"

Don't let that photo fool you:

"...Although its teeth only reach up to 130 microns high — a little more than the width of a human hair — 'that's at least five times as high as that of other leeches,' Siddall said. 'And every one of the people who were found with these in the clinical cases had a frontal headache. Their teeth are big, and these things hurt.'

"Still, its other physical traits belie its majestic name. The leech is less than two inches long (5 centimeters)...."


(from Anna J. Phillips, Renzo Arauco-Brown, Alejandro Oceguera-Figueroa, Gloria P. Gomez, María Beltrán, Yi-Te Lai, Mark E. Sidda, via PLoS ONE, used w/o permission)

Leeches are all over the world - which is significant for paleontologists and folks who go in the water from time to time. And Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes, has leeches. Lots of them. (Actually, we have 11,842 lakes with 10 or more acres, but who's counting?)

There's even a largish lake called Leech Lake. The leeches I remember seeing, writhing in the shallows there, seemed to be several inches long. I tried to look up something more official than my memory, but the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Tourism office both seem a bit reticent on the subject of leeches. At least when it comes to details.

Can't say that I blame them. The whole idea is to encourage folks to visit Minnesota - and I suppose you don't do that by telling them too much about the invertebrate bloodsuckers that swarm overhead, lurk in the grass and ooze through the water.

Minnesota's a great state, though! I love it here: but it may not be for everybody.

Back to Tyrannobdella rex: those are impressive teeth, for a critter its size. What's at least as interesting, I gather, to scientists is what they're learning about the sort of 'family relations' among different species of leeches.

This new species promises to add valuable data to what's already known about leeches and their development. The individuals aren't particularly old, but I gather that the family of leeches this one comes from started out around 200,000,000 years ago.

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