Leech With Enormous Teeth Discovered

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An enormous-toothed leech, pulled from the nose of a girl who was bathing in a river, has just been documented in the journal PLoS ONE.   

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Named Tyrannobdella rex, which means “tyrant leech king,” the new species of blood sucker sports its “ferociously large teeth” in a single jaw. Although it’s less than 2 inches in length, I think you’d remember this individual if you spotted it on your body.

(Credit for images: Phillips, et al. PLoS ONE 2010)

Found at remote parts of the Upper Amazon in Peru, the new species has led to a revising of the leech family that feeds from the body orifices of mammals.

“Because of our analysis of morphology and DNA, we think that Tyrannobdella

rex is most closely related to another leech that gets into the

mouths of livestock in Mexico,” said Anna Phillips, a graduate student

affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and the first

author of the paper. “We think the leech could feed on aquatic mammals,

from their noses and mouths for example, where they could stay for weeks

at a time.”

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The find adds to the some 700 known species of leeches worldwide. Since they exist far and wide, it’s thought that these organisms had a common ancestor that lived on Pangea, the huge prehistoric land mass that broke up and eventually led to today’s continents.

“We named it Tyrannobdella rex because of its enormous teeth,” explained Mark Siddall, who also worked on the study and is a curator in

the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

(Another look at the leech. This time, the photo shows most of its entire body.)

Siddall added, “Besides, 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.”

“The new T. rex joins four other species

that use this abbreviated name, including two Miocene fossils (a snail

and a scarab beetle), a living Malaysian formicid ant, and, of course,

the infamous Cretaceous theropod dinosaur that was described in 1905 by

an earlier curator of the American Museum of Natural History.”

To read the full journal paper, which includes a few additional images, please go to this PLoS ONE page.