Leeches are world wide. There are hundreds of species with 40 or more of them in Michigan alone. It's not unusual to find them in woodsy creeks, ponds, and streams; sometimes they stick to you when you come out of the water, sometimes they don't, depending if it's the predatory type.

Leeches are identified as worms with suction cups on each end. The tail end holds it down while the other end bites a hole in its prey and sucks the blood. The colors range from black, brown, green, and red.

My first encounter with leeches happened when I was a kid.

Some friends and I were out in the woods exploring when we came across a tiny creek...so tiny you could jump across it. We got down and looked close to see what was under water, and we spotted some odd, small, roundish thing that was moving. So, being curious kids, we attempted to get it out of the water to look at it, using a stick. I somehow got this thing on the stick and pulled it out of the water. A few seconds later, this roundish object (no bigger than the circle you make when you put the tips of your thumb and index finger together) stre-e-tched out to about a foot long and just hung there. It was a giant leech.

At the time, we knew them as 'bloodsuckers' and not as leeches. I'll never forget that...it looked dark green with a red underbelly. I later found out these types were called Macrobdella Decora, a leech with a red underbelly that is found in America and used for medicinal purposes. Michigan also has a different type, called a 'horse leech'.

I have never had a leech attach itself to me, and I hope I never do. But what would I do if that did happen?

Don't pull or scrape it off...your wound could bleed for up to 20 minutes.

What about putting salt on 'em like Humphrey Bogart did in “The African Queen”? Not a good idea. Scientists say that when leeches are stressed while feeding, they regurgitate the already-consumed blood back into the wound. With that vomit comes bacteria, which could cause infection...so don't salt 'em, because that will stress them out.

The recommended solution is to scrape them off with a fingernail or credit card, fast enough so they won't vomit back into the wound.....or to let them finish feeding which could take up to ¾ of an hour. (I prefer the first solution.)

So next time you're swimming or wading through a stream in the Michigan woods, take a good look at your body afterward.

LEECHES

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The Grand Traverse Journal