, Volume 134, Issue 1, pp 33–43 | Cite as

Comparative structural analysis of jaws of selected blood-feeding and predacious arhynchobdellid leeches (Annelida: Clitellata: Hirudinida)

  • M. V. Kovalenko
  • S. Y. Utevsky
Original Paper


Morphological traits of jaws, denticles and salivary pores in jawed leeches are compared and an overview of their structural and functional properties is given. The species studied include Hirudo medicinalis, H. verbana, H. orientalis, H. nipponia, H. troctina, Limnatis nilotica, Haemopis sanguisuga and Whitmania laevis. Morphological descriptions are based on scanning electron microscopy and translucent light microscopy. All the species possess denticles arranged in one or two rows on muscular jaws with salivary pores between neighboring denticles. Structural differences of the denticles occur between the genera Hirudo, Limnatis and Haemopis, while within a genus, denticle structure is similar. In Hirudo spp., denticles are complex organs consisting of two subunits. Denticles of Limnatis nilotica are simple in their structure. Denticles and salivary pores of Haemopis sanguisuga have the largest size and the most complex structure as compared with the other species. Those denticles are heart-shaped; two rows of them coalesce into a single row. Salivary canals open through multiple pores arranged in a number of patches and leading into large common openings located between the denticles. The denticle sizes and numbers were found to correlate negatively: species with larger denticles have a fewer number of them.


Hirudo spp. Medicinal leech Haemopis Limnatis Whitmania Jaw Blood-feeding 



We thank to Dr. Raja Ben Ahmed and Dr. YiTe Lai for providing some leech specimens for our research, to Tokyo Boeki Technology ltd. and Mikhail Fadeev for helping with SEM. Special thanks go to Dr. Andrei Utevsky and Dr. Peter Trontelj for their comments on drafts of this paper.


  1. Baskova IP, Kostrjukova ES, Vlasova MA, Kharitonova OV, Levitskiy SA, Zavalova LL, Moshkovskii SA, Lazarev VN (2008) Proteins and peptides of the salivary gland secretion of medicinal leeches Hirudo verbana, H. medicinalis and H. orientalis. Biochemistry (Moscow) 73(3):315–320 ISSN: 0006–2979CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Borda E, Siddall ME (2004a) Arhynchobdellida (Annelida: Oligochaeta: Hirudinida): phylogenetic relationships and evolution. Mol Phylogenet Evol 30:213–225CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Borda E, Siddall ME (2004b) Review of the evolution of life history strategies of the Hirudinida (Annelida: Oligochaeta). Lauterbornia 52:5–25Google Scholar
  4. Damas D (1972) Durcissement de la cuticule des machoires chez Hirudo medicinalis (Annelide, Hirudinee), aboutissant aux structures dentaires. Etude histochimique et ultrastructurale. Arch Zool Exp Gen 113:401–423Google Scholar
  5. Dickinson ML, Lent CM (1984) Feeding behavior of the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis L. J Comp Physiol 154:449–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Elliott JM (2008) Population size, weight distribution and food in a persistent population of the rare medicinal leech Hirudo medicinalis. Freshw Biol 53(8):1502–1512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Elliott JM, Kutschera U (2011) Medicinal leeches: historical use, ecology, genetics and conservation. Freshw Rev 4:21–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hildebrandt J-P, Lemke S (2011) Small bite, large impact–saliva and salivary molecules in the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis. Naturwissenschaften 98:995–1008CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Kovalenko MV, Utevsky SYu (2012) Size structures and comparative phenology of syntopic populations of Hirudo verbana and Hirudo medicinalis in eastern Ukraine. Biologia 67(5):934–938CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kutschera U (2012) The Hirudo medicinalis species complex. Naturwissenschaften 99:433–434CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Kvist S, Min G-S, Siddall ME (2013) Diversity and selective pressures of anticoagulants in three medicinal leeches (Hirudinida:Hirudinidae, Macrobdellidae). Blackwell Publishing Ltd., LondonGoogle Scholar
  12. Lent CM, Fliegner KH, Freedman E, Dickinson MH (1988) Ingestive behavior and physiology of the medicinal leech. J Exp Biol 137:513–527PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Lukin EI (1976) Leeches. In Fauna USSR 1: 370–379. Academy of Science of the USSR. (In Russian)Google Scholar
  14. Marshall CG, Lent CM (1988) Excitability and secretory activity in salivary gland cells of jawed leeches (Hirudinea: gnathobdellida). J Exp Biol 137:89–105PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Moquin-Tandon A (1846) Monographie de la familledes Hirudinées. Chez J-B Ailliére, ParisGoogle Scholar
  16. Nesemann H, Neubert E (1999) Annelidae, Clitellata: Brachiobdellida, Acanthobdellea, Hirudinea. In: Schwoerbel J, Zwick P (eds) Süßwasserfauna von Mitteleuropa 6/2. Spektrum, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  17. Orevi M, Eldor A, Giguzin I, Rigbi M (2000) Jaw anatomy of the blood-sucking leeches, Hirudinea Limnatis nilotica and Hirudo medicinalis, and its relationship to their feeding habits. J Zool 250:121–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Phillips AJ, Siddall ME (2009) Poly-paraphyly of Hirudinidae: many lineages of medicinal leeches. BMC Evol Biol 9:246CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Sawyer RT (1986) Leech biology and behaviour II & III. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  20. Siddall ME, Trontelj P, Utevsky SY, Nkamany M, Macdonald III KS (2007) Diverse molecular data demonstrate that commercially Hirudo medicinalis available medicinal leeches are not Hirudo medicinalis. Proc R Soc B 274(1617):1481–1487Google Scholar
  21. Trontelj P, Utevsky SY (2005) Celebrity with a neglected taxonomy: molecular systematics of the medicinal leech (genus Hirudo). Mol Phylogenet Evol 34(3):616–624Google Scholar
  22. Trontelj P, Utevsky SY (2012) Phylogeny and phylogeography of medicinal leeches (genus Hirudo): fast dispersal and shallow genetic structure. Mol Phylogenet Evol 63(2):475–485Google Scholar
  23. Trontelj P, Sket B, Steinbruck G (1999) Molecular phylogeny of leeches: congruence of nuclear and mitochondrial rDNA datasets and the origin of bloodsucking. J Zool Syst Evol Res 37(1999):141–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Trontelj P, Sotler M, Verovnik R (2004) Genetic differentiation between two species of the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis and the neglected H.verbana, based on random amplified polymorphic DNA. Parasitol Res 94:118–124PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Utevsky S, Trontelj P (2005) A new species of the medicinal leech (Oligochaeta, Hirudinida, Hirudo) from Transcaucasia and an identification key for the genus Hirudo. Parassitol Res 98:61–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Utevsky S, Zagmajster M, Atemasov A, Zinenko O, Utevska O, Utevsky A, Trontelj P (2010) Distribution and status of medicinal leeches (genus Hirudo) in the Western Palaearctic: anthropogenic, ecological, or historical effects? Aquat Conserv: Mar Freshw Ecosyst 20:198–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Whitaker IS, Rao J, Izadi D, Butler PE (2004) Hirudo medicinalis: ancient origins of, and trends in the use of medicinal leeches throughout history. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg 42:133–137CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Animal EcologyV.N. Karazin Kharkiv National UniversityKharkivUkraine

Personalised recommendations