Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Forensic Leech Solves Oz Case

Eight years ago Peter Cannon tied up a 71 year old woman in her remote Tasmanian home and stole several hundred dollars in cash. Unbeknownst to Cannon, a terrestrial leech (probably Philaemon grandis, endemic to the island) that had finished feeding on him, dropped off while he was in the midst of theiving.

The case remained unsolved until forensic experts extracted DNA from the leech gut contents, and matched fingerprinting profiles to those on record for Cannon. Cannon promptly plead guilty when faced with the incriminating match.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Leech Species from Jersey

Bill and Carol Ott found a huge leech in a ditch in their backyard in Alloway New Jersey, brought it inside and cared for it. That's a story enough in itself!! "We're just curious people," Carol Ott said.

Beth Wirchansky, a student of Dan Shain's at Rutgers, figured out it was a species new to science, and described it as Haemopis ottorum. Through molecular phylogenetic methods, Wirchansky and Shain corroborated its uniqueness and that its closest relative is Haemopis terrestris.

For the rest of the month, there is a display devoted to Haemopis ottorum, including live specimens, in the lobby of Rutgers-Camden's Science Building!

Congrats Beth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Leeches in Creation Mythology

Last year I posted the Osage Creation Myth in which Macrobdella decora is prominent.

Remarkably, leeches appear in a wide variety of creation myths.

In the Qu'ran:
“then of that fluid-drop (nutfa) We created a leech-like clot" (Quran 23:14)
"then did he become a leech-like clot; then did (Allah) make and fashion (him) in due proportion. And of him He made two sexes, male and female.”(Quran 75: 37-39).

In the creation myth of the Bengali Munda people in India, the benevolent Sun god Sing-Bonga is married to the Moon and brings forth a tortoise, a crab and a leech to create the land by bringing up soil from the sea bed. – Dalton (1872: Descriptive ethnology of Bengal, p 197). "SingBonga ordered them to bring a lump of clay (hasa) from the depth of ocean. The tortoise and the crab failed to do it. The leech went deep and deep to the ocean and finally found bit clay from the depths of the ocean and gifted it to the Supreme Sing Bonga. SingBonga by his power transformed the bit of clay into the earth. "

In Shinto creation mythology "After the sun and moon, the next child Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto gave birth to was the leech-child. When this child had completed his third year, he was nevertheless still unable to stand upright." Alternatively: "The child which was born to them was Hiruko (the leech-child), which when three years old was still unable to stand upright. So they placed the leech-child in a boat of reeds and let it float away."