|A feeding leech on a human leg (see below for model credits).|
The leeches in the bushes were very troublesome, and made many plentiful meals at our expense: this would probably have done us no great harm, but the wounds which they made usually festered and became painful sores.—John Oxley, Journal of an Expedition in Australia, part II, 1817.
In the water-hole near our camp, there were numerous small brown leeches, which were very keen in the water, but dropped off as soon as we lifted our feet out of it. The hornets also were very troublesome…—Ludwig Leichhardt, Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia: From Moreton Bay to Port Essington, a distance of upwards of 3000 miles, during the years 1844-1845.
August 8…. We fortunately found water in a low place, and with difficulty lighted a fire, everything being saturated with rain. We then laid down and endeavoured to sleep, but were unable to do so from the number of small leeches which attacked us. I was obliged to get up several times in the night, and in the morning I found myself covered with blood.—William Carron, Narrative of an Expedition Undertaken Under the Direction of the Late Mr. Assistant Surveyor E. B. Kennedy (1849)
|Leeches are attracted by body heat, they say. This one is questing for prey.|
Exports per Emma Sherratt for the Mauritius. 6 cows, 6 horses, 100 sheep, 40 tons dried fish, several tons of potatoes, 5 casks grapes, 6 jars of leeches, with various other articles of colonial produce.The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, Saturday 22February 1845, page 2
Leeches.—Pondicherry furnishes the Mauritius abundantly with leeches. They sell from 10 doll, to 20 doll, per hundred, and sometimes as high as 30 doll, per dozen. They arc brought in earthenware pots, half filled with earth, which is constantly moistened with fresh water, the earth sometimes completely changed.The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, Saturday 5 July 1845, page 2
But there was dirty work afoot, withFrench leeches being artificially enlarged in the interests of profit. M. Chevalier, Professor of the School of Pharmacy and a member of the Academy of Medicine, reported the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, had published a pamphlet exposing the wicked practice of feeding some of the 500,000,000 leeches imported into France each year on domestic stock.
…the origin of the blood contained in the bodies of the gorged leeches being unknown, may become the source of contagious diseases transmitted from animals to man … an imposition alike injurious to commerce and to health.The Maitland Mercury, and Hunter River GeneralAdvertiser, Saturday 20 June1846, 3.
How to make Leeches Bite. Dr. Rennes, of Bergerac, advises that the leeches should be put for an instant into weak wine-and-water, the better for being a little warm, just before applying them ; no sooner are they laid on the part than even the most sluggish pierce the skin instantly ; those even that had been for a short time before used, immediately attach themselves. In the Hotel Dieu, the practice is to wring a linen cloth out of undiluted wine, and wrap the leeches in it for a few moments, which is found to have the desired effect.
Scientific American 21/10/1848, 40 vol 4
But why would you want a leech to bite? To cure the patient, of course! And aside from general maladies, leeches were set specific targets:
Leeches recommended on the temples when cholera affected the head. "Should the head be affected and the face flushed, cold lotions should be applied and leeches to the temples."
Scientific American 30/12/1848, 115
They were caught by laying out blood-smeared hides overnight, and in the morning, the thousands of leeches were stripped off, 'squeezed' to remove the slime and then put in blue clay in a box. If they were not cleaned of the slime, they would surely die.
A very remunerative business has lately grown … Melbourne in the exportation of leeches. The trade is principally carried on In connection with the operations of the Murray River Fishing company, the fishermen there employed turning their attention at seasons unfavorable to the fishery to the collection of leeches. From 150,000 to 210,000 leeches are sometimes collected in one of the trips of the company’s steamers. They are then packed and conveyed to Melbourne, where a large proportion of them are put up for transmission abroad, great numbers being sent to London and Paris, where it is stated they are preferred to leeches brought from any other place.Scientific American 3/8/1867, 102.
SOME articles intended to be transmitted In the English mails, but which were not forwarded by the officials, are thus described by a cotemporary :—Two canaries, a pork pie from Devonport to London, pair of white mice, leeches in bladder, bottle of cream, sample of cider, a roast duck, a loaded pistol, fish, reptiles, &c.Scientific American 19/12/1863, 387
Accidents from swallowing leeches. It appears from an article in the Archives Générales de Médecine, that the soldiers in Algeria are particularly liable to accidents of this description. At the time when the leeches are swallowed, they are so small as readily to escape detection ; they are filiform, and rather resemble a blade of grass than anything else. They usually become attached to the isthmus faucium, or to the pharynx, and are sometimes found in the nostrils. When once they have become fixed, they generally remain for a considerable period, and undergo their development rapidly. Dr. Baizeau records a case in which they remained for more than six months within the pharynx. They very seldom come away of their own accord, and must usually be extracted forcibly.
If they are too deeply seated to be caught by a forceps, then the patient must gargle his throat with a mixture of vinegar, water, and common salt, and must continue the process for several days. But even this sometimes proves unavailing. The symptoms are those of irritation in the part, together with occasional hemorrhage. The latter is often mistaken for a symptom of disease of the lungs, stomach, &c. The only preventive appears to be a caution to the soldiers not to drink water from streams, &c., when they are on the march. It is a remarkable circumstance that a leech can live so long a period under conditions so opposite to those it previously enjoyed, and bears out In some measure the views of those who class the Hirundinei with the Trematoda and Planaria.
Scientific American 20/2/1864, 122
A correspondent of the “Philadelphia North American” gives an interesting description of an ingenious instrument, contrived by Dr. Merryweather of Yorkshire, Eng., the great working principle of which is founded on the sensitiveness of leeches to the changes of the weather. It is well known that leeches confined in a bottle partly filled with water, are accustomed, previous to a storm, to rouse from their sluggishness and exhibit signs of extraordinary perturbation. They will swim in all directions, and rising one after another to the top of the water, commence climbing the side of the bottle.
Availing himself of this time-honored custom among leeches, Dr. Merryweather arranged a number of bottles on a stand, each containing a leech and a metallic tube of a particular form, covered with shellac varnish, so that no metal could come in contact with the animal.— When a change in the weather was about to take place, the leeches would crawl into this metallic tube, and in so doing displace a small piece of whalebone which was arranged so as to partially close the opening. To this whalebone was attached a wire, which, passing upward through the mouth of the bottle, connected with the hammer of a bell, so that whenever the leeches were influenced by the electro-magnetic state of the atmosphere to ascend the tube, notice of the fact would be promptly transmitted to the ears of their master.
But it is not absolutely necessary that every one should have such a finished apparatus as that of Dr. Merryweather. On board of vessels it would only be necessary to keep a few leeches in a bottle, placed in some prominent place where the lookout could occasionally examine their movements, and the necessary warning be conveyed in ample time.
Dr. Merryweather seems to have tested his invention fairly. For an entire year (1850) he wrote to the president of the Philosophical Society of Whitby, accounts of the storm indications of his leeches; and in no instance did they prove incorrect. If these results are verified by other observations, a leech barometer may be deemed an indispensable appendage to every ship and every household.
Scientific American 11/3/1854, 208.
|Leeches get along like looper caterpillars ("inch worms"), and make a|
fascinating study, but trying to photograph a time series is a real pain.
Finally, here is a link for extra reading on leeches from the Australian Museum.