Madagascar Faces Leaping Leech Menace: Here’s What You Need to Know

Sometimes, it seems that there are no limits to the vile bloodsucking insects that plague humanity. And no, I am not referring to Congress. Leeches are the latest to invade Madagascar. They’re not politicians in suits and ties.

Leaping leeches. Yes, really.

For more than a hundred years, explorers have written personal accounts of the jumping leeches they encountered in rainforests. Leech biologists, however, have argued that these claims are false. They say it is more likely the parasites climbed onto their prey without being noticed or were dropped from above.

Two videos show that at least some species of Madagascar terrestrial leech can jump.

Here is one of the videos.

The behavior was published in Biotropica today by Mai Fahmy. She is a visiting scientist and postdoctoral researcher at Fordham University.

Fahmy, while on an expedition to Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park in 2017, recorded a leech of the Chtonobdella genus leaping and springing on a leaf. In 2023 she returned to Madagascar, but this time for fieldwork at the Ivohiboro protected area. She observed the Chtonobdella sand leech make a similar motion to that of a “back bending snake” or a spring being retracted, and jump to the ground. Fahmy, once again was filming.

You thought you were safe when you went back to the jungle of Madagascar. Was it ever safe to go back into the jungle of Madagascar?

Madagascar was not on many people’s vacation plans. Madagascar is a fascinating place with unique wildlife, such as lemurs. The idea of leeches leaping is a bit of a turn-off. Leeches are familiar to me. I spent some time fishing in the muddy upper Mississippi, and its even muddier tributaries in my youth. Any foray in the water resulted in at least one leech. The leeches in the Mississippi River were large, hungry, and fat. They made excellent bait once they were detached. Other blood-sucking parasites can be found in many parts of the world, such as mosquitoes, blackflies, other flies, ticks, and fleas.

Even the mere thought of such critters is enough to make you a bit clingy. Not only is it the blood-sucking, but also the thought that a leech could jump into your snack, turning what was once delicious into leeches and creamy. This is enough to make you want to run back to the airport to do your best leech impression on a departing plane.

I originally had a few leech jokes in mind, but they were all terrible, so I’ll see myself out.