A growing number of people are keeping giant leeches as pets, and letting the bloodsucking parasites feed on their blood for sustenance.
The breed of choice is the buffalo leech (Hirudinaria manillensis), which hails from southeast Asia and can grow up to two feet long.
Breeders recommend the creatures feed every three to six months, though some species can go a year between feedings.
Owners share pictures and stories about these exotic creatures online, using hashtags like #petleeches and #leechesofinstagram.
A growing number of people are adopting giant leeches as pets and letting them feed on their blood for sustenance
On Instagram, one woman posted a photo of her leech treating her arm like a lunch buffet.
‘This glutton got so full she wouldn’t hold herself up, so I had to do it,’ she wrote in an accompanying caption. ‘It’s so odd to hold a squishy sausage full of my own fresh blood.’
Instagram user ‘freshwatercactus’ posted a collage showing her leech, ‘Dave,’ swell up as it gorged on her blood.
‘He grew into a little bratwurst and fed for an hour-and-a-half,’ she wrote.
Breeders recommend the creatures feed every three to six months, though some species can go a year between feedings
Buffalo leeches are among the larger of the 600 known species of leeches and can drink up to ten times their weight in blood in a single feeding. Instagram user ‘freshwatercactus’ posted a collage (pictured) showing her leech, ‘Dave,’ swell up as it gorged on her blood. ‘He grew into a little bratwurst and fed for an hour-and-a-half,’ she wrote
Ariane Khomjani, a therapist near San Francisco, keeps four buffalo leeches as pets and lets them feed once a month.
‘Once they get feeding you don’t even feel it, even with the large buffalo leeches,’ he told ScienceAlert.
Khomjani, who also owns a five foot anaconda and a carnivorous centipede, lets the bloodsuckers slither freely around his room,
Buffalo leeches are among the larger of the 600 known species of leeches—in a single feeding they can drink up to ten times their weight in blood and swell up more than a foot longer.
Khomjan says each of his ‘children’—Laera, Liidra, Lykra and Lars— have their own distinct personality.
‘Some like to try and sneak a feed more often than others, haha! But once they’re full, they’re content to sit and rest for a bit out of water if handled gently,’ he said.
Another owner, who goes by the name of ‘leechscapades’ on Instagram, said their two leeches have become romantically attached.
‘Jane and Adelaide did the Spider-Man kiss today,’ they wrote on Instagram. ‘I woke up and Jane was hanging upside down from the flower pot and kissing Adelaide passionately. It was adorable.’
Aside from their unusual diet, Khomjani insists having a leech isn’t that different from having a cat or dog.
Leeches can go a year between feedings but breeders recommend letting them sup once every three or four months
Buffalo leeches are hermaphroditic and reciprocal fertilization is possible if they mate facing head-to-tail
While keeping them as pets is a relatively new trend, leeches have been used in medicine for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians
‘People are only scared of what they don’t understand,’ he told The Sun.
Well, there’s at least one other difference: Buffalo leeches are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs, and reciprocal fertilization is possible if they mate facing head-to-tail.
While keeping them as pets is a relatively new trend, leeches have been used in medicine for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians.
In the past, doctors believed that ‘bloodletting’ — using the parasites to suck ‘excess’ blood out of their patients — would purify the body.
There are some 600 known species of leeches, and the buffalo leech (Hirudinaria manillensis) is among the largest
They were applied to treat a range of maladies, including boils, cysts, tootaches, headaches, eye disorders and even mental illness.
To treat tonsillitis, a leech would be tied to a thread and lowered into a patient’s throat until it attached to the swollen glands.
Leeches are still used today, albeit in a much more limited way: The parasite’s saliva contains an anticoagulant that can help prevent veins from clogging with blood after reattachment operations, skin grafts and reconstructive surgeries.
Anecdotally, some people claim they can also help with circulatory problems, arthritis, even clear up your complexion.
In 2004, The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of leeches as ‘medical devices’ to prevent venous congestion after surgery.
‘Even though the use of leeches can prevent tissue death and promote healing in select cases, patients and families are often uneasy with the concept,’ said Rod Rezaee, a surgeon at University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.
‘However, when we openly communicate with them about our goals and the reasons for the therapy, most patients understand and are accepting of the treatment.’