Freaky Nose Leech Named For Its Enormous Teeth

Photos via LiveScience

Three years ago, after a young Peruvian girl bathed in a river, she began to experience an odd sensation in the her nose--like something was moving back there... And it turns out there was. After visiting with a local physician about the problem, researchers realized that the girl had inadvertently 'discovered' a rather nasty species of leech, previously unknown to biologists. According to them, the leech is a bit different from other species in that it packs a wallop of a bite with the eight "enormous teeth" that line its single jaw. So, when it came time to name the critter, what did these highly-trained, uneasily fazed biologists decide upon? Well, may we introduce you to the T. rex leech?

According to LiveScience, the Tyrannobdella rex leech's proportions offer a lesson in contrasts. Its body isn't so big, measuring in at around one centimeter, but its teeth are "at least five times as high as that of other leeches," says one researcher. But as well endowed dentally as it may be, biologists are quick to point out the fearsome creature is lacking in other areas.

Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York:

The width of the adult leech is about 1 centimeter, or about the width of my pinkie, while the genitalia are about one-tenth to one-fifth the width of a millimeter, or 100 to 200 microns. The diameter of a blood cell is only about seven microns.

T. rex leeches, like several other species found in Mexico, India, and Taiwan, seem to prefer the warmth and comfort that can only be found inside victims' bodies--which is why it ended up in that poor girl's nose. But unlike other leeches, which often can feast on a host's blood undetected, Siddall says that the size of the teeth breaking the skin means "these things hurt."

The similarity between the T. rex and other leeches distributed throughout the world suggests their lineage goes back a long ways. Siddall, in what's becoming a trend of whimsical comments, postulates that the big-toothed leech may have had a chance encounter with its dinosaur namesake.

The earliest species in this family of these leeches no-doubt shared an environment with dinosaurs about 200 million years ago when some ancestor of our T. rex may have been up that other T. rex's nose.

One Peruvian girl's unfortunate 'discovery' of the recently classified T. rex leech elicits excitement from researchers like Siddell, who think that when it comes to finding these bloodsucking parasites, biologists have just scratched the surface, so to speak. Which means while such a discovery may have most right-thinking folks steering clear of streams, Siddell and his team are diving right in. "Last week we were up to our necks in water in Peru trying to find more," he said.

How exactly does Siddell plan on capturing the T. rex leech? Who nose?

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Tags: Amazonia | Animals | Biology | Peru