Hirudo medicinalis


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Hirudo medicinalis
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name/s:
English Medicinal Leech
French Sangsue Médicinale, Sangsue Officinale

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Lower Risk/near threatened ver 2.3
Year Published: 1996
Date Assessed: 1996-08-01
Needs updating
Assessor/s: World Conservation Monitoring Centre
1994 Indeterminate (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Indeterminate (IUCN 1990)
1988 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The medicinal leech has been recorded throughout Europe as far east as the Ural mountain range. It has a patchy distribution.
Algeria; Armenia (Armenia); Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Czech Republic; Denmark; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Italy; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Moldova; Montenegro; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Serbia (Serbia); Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; Uzbekistan
Regionally extinct:
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: It is scarce in France and Belgium, and is thought to occur in more than 20 scattered subpopulations in the UK.
Population Trend: Unknown

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Found in naturally occurring freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, and marshes. Usually rests at air/water interface near the shore.

Has been used medicinally for the purpose of phlebotomy (drawing blood) for millennia, and was popularized for this use in the nineteenth century. Currently used in microsurgery to reduce postoperative haematomas is quite effective. The species is commercially available for medical purposes. Several anticoagulants, such as the antithrombin compound hirudin, have been extracted from salivary tissues and have biomedical/pharmacological use.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The medical use of leeches might explain their wide distribution across Europe, as they are thought to have been released into ponds once they had been used for bleeding patients. It is also thought that in the past over-collecting reduced their numbers in some areas. Over-collecting for medical purposes is unlikely to be a threat today, given the protected nature of this species and the ability to breed leeches commercially at leech farms. Perhaps a more significant issue is the conversion of grazing marshes (the prime habitat of the species) to arable cultivation - resulting in lowering of water levels, pollution, and fewer host species. Invasion of scrub around ponds has also been a problem in places.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Listed under Appendix III of the Bern Convention, Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Annex V of the Habitats Directive.
Citation: World Conservation Monitoring Centre 1996. Hirudo medicinalis. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <>. Downloaded on 18 April 2014.
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