Now a team of researchers from Copenhagen and Cambridge publishing in Current Biology has shown that mammalian blood can be identified from within leeches for at least four months following feeding. The scientists then investigated 25 specimens of the Haemadipsa leech from the Central Annamite rain forest in Vietnam from which they were able to identify mitochondrial DNA specific to 6 mammal species, including that from Capricornis maritimus, a goat-antelope threatened by environmental degradation from logging. Other mitochondrial DNA recovered serves as the first confirmed record of the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) being present in the area sampled.
Other species of leech are used in biomedicine research due to the naturally occurring anticoagulant they produce. Now the scientists hope this tropical species and others like it will help conservation biologists monitor biodiversity inexpensively and more easily in hard to reach tropical environments.
Written by Nick Crumpton