From the Report of Meryl Dunestal, Day 11.
If I did not say this before, I’ll say it now: this little expedition counts for all the favors I’ve ever owed you. You could not understand what I have just been through. It was worse than the time that soldier took all night to die after his throat had been poorly cut.
My guide found a spot of promising high ground the night before. He set up camp and roasted a small reptile for dinner. Quite good it was, and I went to sleep content for the first time in this forsaken place. I awoke sticky with sweat and thought to wash off in the swamp. The water was open here and fairly clean.
I was making good progress when my guide suddenly jumped up and began yelling at me. After many seconds I finally realized that he wanted me out of the water. He seemed almost frantic, and I soon knew why.
Description. As I emerged from the swamp I saw a creature attached to my lower leg. The color of old blood it was, the deepest crimson. A very appropriate choice for this little bloodsucker, and I mean that literally. About eighteen inches long and teardrop shaped, it looked like a misshapen garden worm. The wide part of the teardrop began at about six inches in width and tapered down to about two inches at the narrow end. This teardrop was flattened so that it was only an inch or two thick.
The body was divided into at least thirty segments, apparently so the little bugger can wriggle around. The top was tough, like armor, while the underbody was fairly soft. All the interesting parts were on the slimy underbody. At each end of the underbody a small, cuplike projection allows the leech to attach to its prey. A tiny mouth at the narrow end contains very tiny but razor sharp teeth.
The leech cannot swim. It moves as a worm does, alternately contracting then expanding its body. It can move along the swamp bottom or on the high ground. But, if the leech is removed from the water, it must soon return, or eventually dry out and die.
Habitat. This was very easy to determine. The leech inhabits all areas of the swamp, preferring the shallows where small animals frequently walk or come to drink. They remain all but invisible against the muddy bottom, if you can see the bottom at all.
Diet. Reminds me a bit of you. I have heard them call you a bloodsucker. The leech only eats one thing: blood. Any source of blood will do: fish, animals, reptiles, even people, as I have learned. The leech waits for the prey to pass by, and then simultaneously attaches itself with the cups and bites into the skin with its teeth. They create a tiny hole through which the leech inserts its bloodsucking tube.
Why don’t you feel this? Well, the mouth contains anesthetic saliva that deadens all feeling in the area around the leech. I certainly didn’t feel it. I could barely believe this creature was feeding on me as I watched, and still I could not sense its presence. The saliva also prevents the blood from clotting, as my small wound continued to ooze blood for some time after we removed the leech.
How did we remove it? My guide told me of three ways. The first is to pull it from the body. This is not difficult, although you might lose a little skin in the process. The second is to hold a flame to it. Soon, the leech will drop from its victim. The third, and most enjoyable to one who has been a target of the leech, is to apply salt to it. Then it practically projects itself from the victim, writhing in pain. A very gratifying sight.
The leech can hold quite a lot of blood. Its body swells somewhat as it feeds, and when full it drops off the victim. My guide claims it can live off this feast for many weeks before feeding again. The appetite of the leech is not sufficient to kill, or even significantly harm, most people. Smaller animals could be incapacitated by the blood loss.
Reproduction. My guide was quite amused by my amazement. The leech is both male and female. Apparently it lays its eggs in the swamp muck, and then fertilizes them itself. The eggs are about the size of a silver coin, and a brownish-red in color. I gather that the leech includes a small supply of blood within the egg for the nourishment of its offspring before it hatches. How lovely.
After a few days, the eggs hatch and you’ve got a batch of brand new little bloodsuckers about four inches long. I thought you would appreciate that the natives consider the newly hatched leech quite a delicacy. Oh yes, they grow them in their miserable village, letting the leeches feed off small animals until the eggs are laid.