Friday, February 29, 2008

the specificity of the association

In a lecture I attended this morning, in the context of discussing the extremely sturdy nature of leeches and their resistance to being squished, it was casually mentioned that some leeches happen to mate in a rather particular and (one imagines) remarkably stressful environment. I felt driven to research the topic, and discovered this reference, which I here quote verbatim from its source:

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The biology and adaptations of the hippopotamus leech Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi (Glossiphoniidae) to its host.
Oosthuizen, JH; Davies, RW.
Canadian Journal of Zoology/Revue Canadienne de Zoologie [CAN. J. ZOOL./REV. CAN. ZOOL.]. Vol. 72, no. 3, pp. 418-422. 1994.

The specificity of the association between the freshwater leech Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi and the hippopotamus was confirmed both by collections from the Kruger National Park and by laboratory experiments. Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi is established as the only leech showing species specificity for a mammal. Forty sexually mature leeches were collected free-living and 2260 mature and immature leeches were collected from 40 of 53 culled hippopotami. In the field P. jaegerskioeldi was never found on any of the alternative hosts, and none fed in the laboratory when offered a range of potential hosts. A combination of unique attributes, including mode of locomotion, anatomical features, and feeding behaviour, makes it possible for this leech to utilize the hippopotamus as a host. Evidence suggests that mating in P. jaegerskioldi is restricted to the rectum of the hippopotamus.

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I draw your attention to that last sentence, if it isn't riveted there already. Ladies and gentlemen, there is a biological interaction you can be unequivocally glad not to participate in.

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