Leeches are Tattletales…How Scientists are Using Leech Feeding Habits to Tell us about Rare Wildlife

May 13th, 2012

At the University of Copenhagen (in Denmark), a geneticist named Tom Gilbert has discovered a new method for detecting the presence of rare animals in remote locations.  Blood from wild-caught leeches contains a special genetic signature that tells him what the leeches have been feeding on.

  • Leeches are parasites; they eat the blood of large animals (usually mammals).  When a leech eats a blood meal, the blood is stored in a special food storage organ called a crop.
  • Scientists are able to harvest blood from the crops of leeches and run genetic tests on the blood to tell what animals the leech has been feeding on.
  • In a pilot (test) experiment, Dr. Gilbert tested the blood of 25 leeches that he gathered from a remote forest in Vietnam.  He found that the leeches fed on at least 4 different rare mammals.
  • Some early experiments have shown scientists that using leeches can be a successful method for detecting rare animals in the wild, especially in areas that are difficult to conduct field work.
  • There are some limits as to how reliable testing leeches can be and the tests may not be able to answer all the questions scientists want to have the answers to.
  • More leech studies in different areas will be able to help scientists figure out creative ways to use leeches as indicators of rare wildlife.

The tiger leech (Haemadipsa picta) in Borneo waits on land for passing prey, but new research shows its appetite for blood may be key for conservation efforts. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

A tiger leech in Borneo

Want to read more? Click here to see the full story: http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0430-hance-leeches-DNA.html

Global Climate Change = Extreme Weather Worldwide

May 7th, 2012

On May 5th 2012, 350.org (a climate change awareness organization) organized a planet-wide movement to show people (government, media, the public) how climate change is causing patterns of extreme weather conditions around the world.

  • 1000 individual events were held around the world in more than half the Earth’s countries to showcase the issue.
  • Supporters of 350.org are trying to show the citizens of the Earth how much harm we are doing to the planet.
  • Patterns of extreme weather are increasing around the globe.  Countries are experiencing the worst floods, droughts, and storms in hundreds of years.
  • Severe weather events around the globe are causing death, destruction, and billions of dollars’ worth of damage.
  • Since the 20th century, the temperature of the Earth has increased.  This is caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which trap heat and warm the Earth.
  • Major changes in the Earth’s landscape include: melting of sea ice, increase in sea level, and melting of glaciers.
  • Major changes in climate patterns include: extremely heavy rainfall (causing flooding), extreme drought (causing wildland fires), increased violent storms, and increasing temperatures.
  • Extreme weather is causing devastation to human populations and needs to be halted to save the Earth!

Haiti's youth stand in flooded streets to connect the dots between climate change and severe floods. Photo courtesy of 350.org.

Youth in Haiti participating in 350.orgs Connect the Dots Global Climate Change Event

Read more at: Thousands worldwide to “connect the dots” between climate change and extreme weather this weekend