How to Avoid Leeches in the Borneo Rainforest

 

Here’s how to avoid leeches in lakes and in the rainforest

1. Get a pair of leech socks

Leech socks are worn like regular socks, though you’ll need to tie it just below your knee. This will prevent the leech from getting into the space between your toes and feet. Remember, leeches likes warm and wet places!

2. Get a small bag of raw tobacco leaves which you can get from the market

Soak your tobacco inside some water, then transfer it into a small bottle to carry around and spray on your clothes and pants. You can also soak your leech socks into your tobacco water the night before your trip. According to my personal experience, it doesn’t stop the leech from crawling on the leech socks. The smell of the tobacco is able to slow down the leech and ultimately intoxicate it. But this step will take time and there’s no immediate effect.

3. Apply salt onto your hands or any exposed area

If you see leeches crawling or sucking your blood already, you’ll either wait for it to get full and drop off by itself or immediately apply salt onto the leech and it will drop off instantly. Remember not to pull the leech if it is already sucking your blood – this will make you bleed even more and it is hard to stop the bleeding.

4. Tuck your shirt into your pants

This will prevent the leech from crawling to your belly, armpits and any warm part of your body. Cover yourself well so that it doesn’t give the blood-sucking creature any opening to creep into your body. Long sleeves are not necessary.

5. Keep walking and do not lean on anything in the rainforest

If you need to stop and take a rest, find a spot with direct sunlight. This is because leeches do not exist in dry and hot places. Typically, you’ll find brown leeches on the ground and tiger leeches on the tree leaves. A tiger leech bite is more painful than that of a brown leech, and the bite marks can be permanent too.

Extra information

Some people apply insecticides (specifically, a brand called Bygone) to their clothes, pants, leech socks and shoes. This will completely deter leeches from crawling on you because they’ll die immediately when they come near it.

This may sound like the ultimate solution, but remember that each organism has a role to play in the food chain. There are certain birds that prey on leeches.

If you take the leech population out of the rainforest, that means you’re wiping out the birds from their habitat, too. Furthermore, insecticides are poisonous to humankind, and having close contact with these chemicals is bad for your health! Most parks have already banned insecticides for their destructive nature and you may not be allowed to bring insecticide to the forest.

Besides being a parasite, the leech has its own medicinal use as well. Some people use it to remove poisons from the human body and it is also used to restore blood circulation.

In short: While our tips are helpful in describing how to avoid leeches, trekking in the Borneo rainforest is not complete without at least one bite from the blood sucking creature.

Danger to humans

After a leech bite, hirudin may cause some oozing for a few hours, but don’t worry – it’s not significant. In the rare case of a wound infection caused by intestinal bacteria, antibiotics are used to keep things under control during post-operative care with leeches.

You may experience some itching and irritation after being bitten by these little creatures, but there is no evidence that the mouthparts left behind are responsible for this reaction.

You’re probably wondering if they can carry disease. Well, jawed leeches do not appear to host the trypanosomes that cause African sleeping sickness in humans, so you have nothing to worry about! Although trypanosomes infect fish or crocodiles through their guts, if they are transmitted via jawless species such as certain types of leeches – there is no danger!

If someone is allergic to the bite, medical advice should be sought depending on the severity of the symptoms.


Identification

Leeches have a unique and fascinating appearance with their muscular, symmetrical bodies. They come in a variety of shapes, such as worm-like or pear-shaped, which can change depending on their hunger.

The head tapers toward the mouth, where you’ll find a small mouth sucker, while at the other end is a larger caudal (tail) sucker – unless it’s one of those marine fish parasites called Pisciolidae, which has an enlarged mouth sucker instead!

Interestingly, leeches don’t have feet or bristles like some annelids. Instead, they use three jaws to make Y-shaped cuts when feeding, although Australian land leeches only need two jaws to make V-shaped cuts when feeding.

Habitat

It’s fascinating to learn that while most leeches live in freshwater, there are also many species of land and sea leeches. If you’re exploring wet rainforests, keep an eye out for land leeches on the ground or in low foliage – they love these damp environments!

In drier areas, you may still find them hanging around moist spots on the ground. Interestingly, even though they can’t swim and don’t usually enter water sources like rivers or lakes, some species of land leeches can survive being submerged for short periods of time.

When it comes to surviving in harsh conditions with little access to moisture (like during droughts), certain types of soil-dwelling leeches have developed impressive adaptations: their bodies become hard and shriveled until rehydrated by just a few drops of water sprinkled over them!

Freshwater-loving species tend to prefer slow-moving waters, but have also been found living happily in fast-flowing streams. Finally, did you know that some lucky amphibians enjoy both aquatic AND terrestrial habitats equally?

Feeding and eating

Most leeches are bloodsucking parasites known as sanguivores. They have a preference for certain hosts, but will feed on other classes of hosts if their preferred food is not available.

These creatures can even feed on the blood of humans and other mammals, or parasitize fish, frogs, turtles, or birds!

Interestingly, some sanguivorous leeches can also attack other sanguivorous leeches, which can be fatal.

Sanguivorous leeches can consume several times their own weight in a single meal! After feeding, they usually retreat to dark places where digestion takes place slowly, allowing them to survive long periods of fasting (up to several months).

Leeches are divided into different groups depending on how they feed:

The first group includes jawed leeches, which have teeth that bite into the host’s skin and prevent clotting by producing hirudin – this type is commonly found on bush walks.

The second group have no jaws, but instead insert needle-like projections called proboscises into their prey, which secrete hemetin enzymes that dissolve clots once they form – these types live on the body fluids of worms and small freshwater snails.

Finally, there’s a third group consisting entirely of worm-eaters, which swallow whole smaller invertebrates without biting at all.

Food search

The hungry leech is highly sensitive to light and mechanical stimuli, which causes it to move frequently. It explores its environment by moving its head and waving its body while remaining alert in a stretched position. This helps to enhance the function of the sensory structures on its skin.

When the leech senses an approaching host, it will begin to inch forward until it touches the host with its anterior sucker before firmly attaching itself.

Aquatic species are more likely to exhibit this tracking behavior than terrestrial species, which may inadvertently attach themselves to hosts without intending to.

Distribution

Did you know that there are about 500 different species of leeches in the world? They can be divided into two main infraclasses.

The first is called Euhirudinea and consists of true leeches that live in marine, freshwater or terrestrial environments. They have suckers at both ends but no bristles (chaetae).

On the other hand, Acanthobdellida is a small group found mainly in northern hemisphere waters as ectoparasites on salmonid fish. Interestingly, they lack an anterior sucker but retain chaetae.

Within Euhirudinea we find another classification based on their characteristics:

Rhynchobdellida: jawless marine and freshwater leeches with a protruding proboscis and a true vascular system.

Arynchobdellida: jawless freshwater and terrestrial leeches with a non-extensible muscular pharynx and a hemocoelomic system.

Control Methods

An effective way to control leeches is to use bait traps. You can use a metal container with small holes drilled in it and fill it with raw meat as bait. Once the leeches are attracted and feed on the meat, they will have difficulty escaping from the container. Disposing of them afterwards will help reduce their population.

While ducks can also be used to control leech populations, too many of them can lead to other problems such as parasites or excessive algae growth due to the addition of phosphorus-rich duck feed to the lakes where they live.

Another option that works well for smaller private ponds is to lower the water level by at least a foot after ice has formed over them during the winter months, which will freeze any remaining bloodsuckers in mud beds below the surface, but unfortunately kills some aquatic life along with these pests, so government agencies would not allow this method due to its impact on all the underwater creatures living there!