It is very hot in the Bornean jungle and the air is thick with water vapor. It is rainy season and I sometimes wade up to my ankles in the lukewarm water. I rest regularly, to have a drink and to look around. Sometimes I refresh myself a bit along a stream. When I take off my shoes and socks to step into the clear water, I see that I have taken a hitchhiker unnoticed. My ankle has a tiger leech!
When I walk in the jungle, I always have to remove a leech from my skin. In Sri Lanka for example and a few years ago in Sumatra; there I was deliberately bitten to show on TV how leeches do that.
The result was not bad: the wound bled for 15 hours. It is therefore important to take good care of such a bite. I look at the greedy drinking parasite on my leg. For a leech, a tiger leech is a beautiful animal. Flaming orange, with brown, black and yellow.
Leeches can eat several times their own body weight in a single meal, so they bloat. I don’t feel like waiting for this guy to drop on his own when he’s full, so try to pluck him off me. With policy.
Fighting a leech with a lit lighter or something else is not smart. Chances are that the animal will vomit its entire stomach contents in the wound and nasty infections will occur! So I gently hook my nail under the suction cups, which are on both sides of the body. If you lift such a suction cup slightly, the vacuum disappears and the animal lets go. The tiger leech falls and crawls away into the plants.
Tiger leeches wait for low plants and shrubs for a mammal to pass by. Once on a tray, they attach themselves to their abdomen with the suction cup and stretch out with the rest of their body, with their head over the edge of the blade. That is their attack position.
Tiger leeches know where the walkways are in the jungle and line up there. They respond to mechanical stimuli, such as vibrations caused by footsteps and carbon dioxide that is exhaled.
When the moment is right, they drop and when they find a warm patch of skin, they anchor themselves with their razor-sharp jaws. Like a circular saw and so sharp that you usually don’t notice when you are active. In addition, leeches spit all kinds of biologically active substances such as painkillers and antibiotics into the bite wound. This way the victim is in no pain and the leech can drink undisturbed. It takes a while before it is ready!
The saliva also contains anticoagulants, vasodilators and blood thinners – no wonder their bite wounds stay open for a long time. I pour a little rubbing alcohol over my ankle and put a band-aid on it. Fast forward!
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