Mediterranean medicinal leech

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Mediterranean medicinal leech
Mediterranean medicinal leech (Hirudo verbana)

Mediterranean medicinal leech ( Hirudo verbana )

Trunk : Annelids (Annelida)
Class : Belt worms (Clitellata)
Subclass : Leeches (Hirudinea)
Family : Hirudinidae
Genre : Hirudo
Type : Mediterranean medicinal leech
Scientific name
Hirudo verbana
Carena , 1820

The Mediterranean medicinal leech ( Hirudo verbana , Carena 1820, also called Hungarian leech), which was rediscovered in Hungary in the 1990s, was regarded as a color variant of the type species of the European medicinal leech ( H. medicinalis ) Linnaeus in 1758 and also with the species name Hirudo officinalis differentiated from this. In contrast to the European medical leech, which is rarely used in naturopathy , in Germany over 95% of all leeches used for therapeutic blood collection are Mediterranean leeches ( H. verbana ), which are imported from Turkey or Russia. In contrast to the sister species H. medicinalis , the leeches have a yellow-green, unpigmented ventral side with two side stripes.

Systematic position

In his standard work on the biology of leeches, the zoologist Konrad Herter (1891–1980) took the view that the European medicinal leech ( H. medicinalis ) is a variable species. Therefore, he made a distinction between different color varieties. It was therefore customary until the 1990s to group medicinal leeches with different patterns under the species name H. medicinalis L. 1758 (= H. officinalis Savigny 1822). Morphological studies of the various “leech types”, combined with DNA sequence analysis , and crossbreeding experiments have shown, however, that H. medicinalis and “color variants” collected in Hungary represent two different species. The Mediterranean medicinal leech could be assigned to the taxon Hirudo verbana Carena 1820.


The leeches were discovered around 1818 in Lacus Verbanus ( Lake Maggiore ) and described as a separate species. In contrast to the northern European medical leeches, the “Mediterranean bloodsuckers” can be found in warmer, more southern regions (e.g. Turkey, southern Switzerland, Italy). The areas of distribution only overlap slightly, so that a geographical separation of the species H. medicinalis and H. verbana must be assumed. Both species are brightly colored and, as adults, can reach body lengths of up to 10 cm. The jaw rule feeds as ectoparasites on the blood of fish, amphibians (newts, frogs) and mammals (e.g. wild boars). In nature only exceptionally people are attacked.

Both H. medicinalis and H. verbana are threatened with extinction as a result of the systematic destruction of their natural habitats (warm, amphibian-rich ponds with shallow water zones) and the fishing of entire populations for consumption in leech therapy by doctors and naturopaths.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ulrich Kutschera : Helpful bloodsuckers in medicine and their systematics. In: Biology in Our Time . Vol. 42, No. 6, 2012, pp. 352–353, doi : 10.1002 / biuz.201290093 , ( digital version (PDF; 109 kB) ).
  2. Andreas Michalsen, Manfred Roth (ed.): Leech therapy. Haug, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8304-7169-6 .
  3. Konrad Herter : The medical leech and its relatives (= Die neue Brehm-Bücherei. Vol. 381, ISSN  0138-1423 ). Ziemsen, Wittenberg-Lutherstadt 1968.
  4. ^ Roy T. Sawyer: Leech Biology and Behavior. 3 volumes. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1968.
  5. ^ Ulrich Kutschera: The infamous bloodsuckers from Lacus Verbanus. In: Lauterbornia. Vol. 56, 2006, ISSN  0935-333X , pp. 1–4, ( digitized PDF; 150 kB ).
  6. Ulrich Kutschera, Manfred Roth: Cocoon deposition and cluster formation in populations of the leech Hirudo verbana (Hirudinea: Hirudinidae). In: Lauterbornia. Vol. 56, 2006, pp. 5-8, ( digitized PDF; 222 kB ).
  7. a b Ulrich Kutschera: Leeches underline the need for Linnaean taxonomy. In: Nature . Vol. 447, No. 7146, 2007, p. 775, doi : 10.1038 / 447775b , ( digitized version (PDF; 133 kB) ).
  8. Ulrich Kutschera: The Hirudo medicinalis species complex. In: Natural Sciences . Vol. 99, No. 5, 2012, pp. 433-434, doi : 10.1007 / s00114-012-0906-4 , ( digitized PDF; 114 kB ).
  9. a b J. Malcolm Elliott, Ulrich Kutschera: Medicinal leeches: use historical, ecology, genetics and conservation. In: Freshwater Reviews. Vol. 4, No. 1, 2011, ISSN  1755-084X , pp. 21-41, doi : 10.1608 / FRJ-4.1.417 , ( digitized PDF; 1.6 MB ).