First conclusive evidence that a terrestrial leech species can jump

First conclusive evidence that a terrestrial leech species can jump

A new study presents video evidence that at least one species of terrestrial leech can leap, a behavior scientists have been debating for more than a century, with the footage and associated analysis published in the journal Biology. Biotropica.

During two separate expeditions to Madagascar in 2017 and 2023, lead author Mai Fahmy, a postdoctoral researcher at Fordham University, recorded footage of leeches of the Chtonobdella species coiling back on a leaf and then flying off. The researchers compare this movement to a “backbending cobra” or a spring being retracted. In both cases, the leech keeps its body extended as it flies through the air and lands, which is a departure from their usual inchworm-like movements.

Many other worm-like invertebrates can jump, including the legless larvae of the gall midge which form a looped posture before propelling themselves into the air, the larvae of Mediterranean fruit flies, the “skipper flies”, and many caterpillars, including Lymantria monacha And Orgyia leucostigmaAlthough naturalists and leech biologists have long debated the jumping ability of terrestrial leeches of the Haemadipsidae family, and some have described jumping leeches in their travel notes, no concrete evidence has been found until now.

The lead author collected the jumping leech and identified it as Chtonobdella fallaxIt is a common species in Madagascar. Understanding the leech's overall behavior is also important to conservation efforts because leeches – and more specifically, their blood meals – are increasingly being collected to survey vertebrate biodiversity.

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