Borneo Rainforest Lodge offers additional activities
for our guests. If you feel more adventurous, you
may like to extend your activities such as the Animal
Spotting Drive, Extended Night Drive, Extended Night
Walk and many others.
One of the more infamous inhabitants of the tropical
jungle, leeches are infact fascinating creatures, highly
specialized and supremely adapted to life in the moist
dark understory of the rainforest. As we shall see, they
are largely undeserving of their fearsome reputation.
Leeches belong to the Phyllum Annelida, and are
distantly related to earthworms. They are
hermaphrodites, and have segmented bodies, no legs, and
a sucker at each end of the body, which they use to
attach themselves to substrates and ‘ loop ‘ along.
The sucker at the thinner or ‘head’ end surrounds
mouthparts comprising well-developed jaws with small,
saw-like teeth. When a leech locates its prey it
punctures the skin, its salivary glands producing an
anticoagulant to facilitate blood flow. This is the
reason why leech bites may continue to bleed several
hours after the leech has been removed. A leech may
absorb several times its own weight in blood before
dropping off, and it is thought that one meal can last
up to six months or more. Favorite prey of terrestrial
leeches includes forest mammals such as pigs and deer,
and ground living birds.
DIFFERENT KIND OF LEECHES
There are at least nine species of leech in Borneo,
including freshwater species such as the large buffalo
leech ‘limatak’ or ‘ lintah ‘, found mostly in muddy
water and lowland or coastal areas frequented by
buffaloes. Two terrestrial species of leech are commonly
encountered in Danum Valley Conservation Area.
The Tiger Leech ( haemadipsa picta ),
known locally as ‘limatang ‘ or ‘pacat’ ( leaf leech ),
because it is usually found on leaves of lower
vegetation. Can grow to about 4cm ( 1.6”) long when
stretched out, and sports green, yellow / orange and
black stripes. Bite can be felt.
The Brown Leech ( haemadipsa zeylanica
) or ‘limatok’. Dark brown or black in colour, and
shorter than its striped cousin. Most often seen on the
forest floor. Bite painless.
(On Mt. Kinabalu lives Giant Red Kinabalu Leech,
which can reach more than 30cm (12”) in length.
Inhabiting the montane forest, the giant Red Kinabalu
Leech is thought to feed only on fellow invertebrates,
SOME POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS
Leeches leave their mouthparts behind if you pull them
off in the middle of a meal….FALSE. It is perfectly safe
to do this.
Leeches see or smell their
prey….FALSE. Although most leech species
do have several pairs of eyes, their main form of prey
detection is thought to be by thermoreception, ie.
Sensitivity to body heat, which is why warm blooded
animals from their prey.
Leech bite hurts….SOMETIMES,
when a slight stinging sensation is experienced as the
leech punctures the skin. Many species however inject an
anesthetic so the bite is not felt at all. Itching is
sometimes experienced around the wound after the leech
has fallen off.
There are more leeches in
wet weather….PARTLY TRUE. More are
certainly in evidence after heavy rain, as their moist
bodies and thin skins require high humidity. During dry
periods they hide deep in the leaf litter or soil of the
forest floor to avoid desiccation.
HOW TO ESCAPE BEING A MEMBER OF THE DANUM
VALLEY BLOOD DONOR’S CLUB….
- Wear long trousers tucked into sox when in the forest
or better still use leech socks available from the shop.
- An insecticide like Baygon sprayed onto clothes will
help repel leeches.
- If a leech is on you clothes or skin it can be removed
by flicking it off when it in the loop position, or by
burning it with cigarette, or by rubbing salt on it.
- If sticks to your fingers try scraping it off onto a
tree or leaf.
In the 19th century leeches were used extensively in the
west to reduce blood pressure and removed infection. Now
days they are being reared in laboratories for their
anticoagulant secretions, which are used in operations
such as heart surgery. There is no evidence that leeches
were ever applied medicinally in Borneo.