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The Hirudo medicinalis species complex


Recently, Hildebrandt and Lemke (Naturwissenschaften 98:995–1008, 2011) argued that the taxonomic status of the three European medicinal leeches, Hirudo medicinalis Linnaeus 1758, Hirudo verbana Carena 1820, and Hirudo orientalis Utevsky and Trontelj (Parasitol Res 98:61−66, 2005) is “questionable” since “all three species interbreed in the laboratory”. This statement is in conflict with data published by Elliott and Kutschera (Freshwater Reviews 4:21−41, 2011), indicating that these leeches, which are reciprocally copulating hermaphrodites, represent reproductively isolated biospecies. Here, I summarize evidence indicating that these three European taxa, plus the North African “dragon leech” (Hirudo troctina Johnson 1816), must be interpreted as a complex of closely related species, and that the economically most important taxon H. verbana is polymorphic.

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Correspondence to U. Kutschera.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Kutschera, U. The Hirudo medicinalis species complex. Naturwissenschaften 99, 433–434 (2012).

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  • Hirudo medicinalis
  • Species complex
  • Class Hirudinea
  • Leeches
  • Hirudo verbana
  • Biospecies