“Tyrant Leech King” found in Peru’s Amazonia

A group of international scientists from universities in the United States, Peru, and Taiwan have identified a leech first discovered in Peru’s jungle regions that burrows into nasal cavities. The scientists have named it the Tyrannobdella rex, or “tyrant leech king.”

According to a paper published this week in PLoS ONE, clinical history of the leech dates back to at least 1997 when a six-year-old boy was admitted to a health center in the San Martin department. The boy had previously bathed in local lakes and streams. Doctors removed a 25mm long leech (0.98 in) from his right nostril.

In 2007, doctors at a hospital in La Merced, in the lower cloud forest of Junin department, removed a 65-70mm black leach from the nasal cavity of a nine-year-old girl. The girl said she had frequently entered lakes, rivers and streams in the department’s Satipo province.

“Unlike any other leech previously described,” the report said, “this new taxon has but a single jaw with very large teeth. Phylogenetic analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial genes using parsimony and Bayesian inference demonstrate that the new species belongs among a larger, global clade of leeches, all of which feed from the mucosal surfaces of mammals.”

The report adds that the leech, and others that show preference for burrowing into nasal cavities, descended from a common ancestor millions of years ago.

“Among these, the new species Tyrannobdella rex is the first from South America and one with a particularly unpleasant habit of infesting humans.”

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