North Carolina

New coastal species has three jaws and 59 teeth to feed on human blood, scientists say

An international team of museum scientists led by Anna Phillips, the Smithsonian’s curator of parasitic worms, describes Macrobdella mimicus, the first new species of medicinal leech discovered in over 40 years, in the Aug. 15 issue of the Journal of Parasitology.
An international team of museum scientists led by Anna Phillips, the Smithsonian’s curator of parasitic worms, describes Macrobdella mimicus, the first new species of medicinal leech discovered in over 40 years, in the Aug. 15 issue of the Journal of Parasitology. Smithsonian

Good news: A new species was discovered on the Atlantic Coast.

Bad news: It’s a bloodsucking leech that feeds on humans with three jaws and as many as 59 teeth.

In a recently published journal, scientists from the Smithsonian revealed they have found a “previously unknown leech species, Macrobdella mimicus.”

It is the first new species of leech in more than 40 years, WTTG reported.

The leeches were discovered in Southern Maryland swamps, just outside Washington, D.C., according to The Washington Post.

But the creature’s reach goes far beyond the nation’s capital.

These new leeches can be found from Georgia to New York, similar to many other “human-feeding leech species,” per the Smithsonian.

“The new species is olive-green with orange spots, about as long as a cigarette and as wide as two. It has three jaws, each containing 56 to 59 teeth ... which it can use to bite and siphon blood from humans,” according to the Smithsonian.

Because the new discovery seemed similar to another leech, it was given an appropriate name.

Macrobdella mimicus comes from the Greek word for “imitator” or “actor,” since this was similar in appearance to the M. decora, according to the Smithsonian. DNA tests proved there were distinct differences between the leeches, the scientists reported.

The way the leeches were discovered does not seem like the most scientific of approaches.

The Smithsonian’s Anna Phillips and her colleagues walked into the swamps wearing shorts and open-toed shoes to find leeches, The Washington Post reported.

“She was unfazed when a leech would grab on to her leg. Leeches bite only when they’re hungry, she said,” per the newspaper, saying she was not frightened by the encounters. “Ticks and mosquitoes are way more scary than leeches.”

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.
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