Meet the Bloodsuckers

James Gorman in The New York Times:

It has been a big year for leeches. A new species was discovered near Washington and announced in August by Anna Phillips, who may have the world’s best job title: curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The new leech, Macrobdella mimicus, has three jaws and 59 teeth, and is quite literally a creature of the Washington swamp: It drinks your blood and drops off when it’s full. This particular parasite is not registered as a foreign lobbyist. And there’s more leech news: In May, a man was charged in what may be the first case of leech smuggling in Canadian history. He had flown into Toronto with almost 5,000 leeches in a grocery bag — for personal use. At least, that’s what he said. What kind of personal use could that be? Well, leeches are good for bait, although fake ones are cheaper. There’s D.I.Y. bloodletting. And you can keep them as pets. (They’re not cheap, though: If you buy them online, you could pay $18 for a jumbo leech.)

Still, 5,000 is a lot of personal leeches. Suspicious officials called in Sebastian Kvist, curator of invertebrates at the Royal Ontario Museum, to identify the smuggled contraband. He said that dried leeches can be ground into a powder that is reputed in Chinese traditional medicine to have a variety of benefits. It’s a leech-intensive process. Dr. Kvist, who also helped identify Macrobdella mimicus, is co-designer of a new museum exhibit called “Bloodsuckers: Legends to Leeches,” a celebration of the sucking, sipping, drinking and lapping of the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians in real life as well as the imagination.

More here.