YOUNG WORLD

Painless tapping

HIGHLY SENSITIVE: Leeches reach out for prey instantly.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: GOUTAM GHOSH



GOUTAM GHOSH

Though the bite of a leech is painless, most people are instinctively scared of it.

Though it is claimed that 23 per cent of our nation's area has a forest cover, this includes tea, coffee and rubber plantations. Experts say only three per cent has real forests. To know the real thing, you must visit a rainforest. Tall trees there have branches and leaves at the top (called a canopy). If you make a lollipop, with its caramel ball at one end, stand on your eraser, it would be like a rainforest tree. Once you are in the forest, you will attract hundreds of leeches. Unless you are well protected they will soon feast on your blood. The bites are painless but most people are instinctively scared of leeches. Not all the nearly 1000 species of leeches worldwide are sanguivorous (fresh blood for food). All leeches are annelids with ringed bodies. There are 34 rings of which two usually constitute the mouth. The posterior end helps it to cling to its prey.

Protect yourself

Highly sensitive to smell and vibrations, leeches reach out for their prey instantly. Leeches are grouped by the way they feed. Some with jaws and semi-circular sharp teeth bite their prey and release a chemical called hirudin that prevents the blood from clotting. Forest watchers and guards at the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, Manampalli, showed how a mixture of oil and snuff applied on the legs up to mid-shin; on the shoe tongue and edges, and on the rim of the stockings discourages leeches from reaching in for a bite. The truth is, nothing stops some from reaching the bare skin, no matter how well you are enveloped. To a sanguivorous leech, warm-blooded creatures are rare. So they would instinctively reach out for a preferred meal, instead of earthworms and snails. Most would remain huddled in the folds of your stockings or the shoes after salt solution is swabbed on them. Leeches die quickly if there is no moisture.Remember not to yank leeches out while they are feeding because that would tear their mouths and leave bits deep in the cut. The wounds would itch and scratching them would infect the skin. Leeches are an important part of the food chain. And did you know that leeches are wonderful parents? For more on these amazing creatures, access >http://www.invertebrate.ws or h ttp:// >www.amonline.net.au/factsheets/leeches.htm