By Aubry Forsyth
Halloween is right around the corner, so let’s take a look at a slightly creepy sea turtle rehabilitation treatment. Leeches are aquatic, blood-sucking creatures that probably wouldn’t be the first thing you think of when talking about treating an injured sea turtle. However, leeches are an incredibly useful medicinal tool with multiple benefits.
Leech therapy is used on injured flippers with poor circulation, which often is caused by strangulation of the flipper with rope or fishing line. When using a leech, the care team first cleans the area and then pricks the flipper with a small needle to draw blood. A leech then will be placed on the site to collect blood pooled in areas of poor circulation. This stimulates blood to circulate through the flipper properly.
In addition to improving blood flow, leeches have special proteins and enzymes in their saliva. The proteins and enzymes have multiple medical benefits, including reducing inflammation and preventing blood clots. Leeches also inject an anesthetic enzyme that works to lessen pain. The leeches secrete more than 100 different types of enzymes and proteins, and all of them work together to help heal the injury, improve circulation, speed up the healing process, and prevent tissue death.
Our sea turtle partners at the Brevard Zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center have used leech therapy to treat some of their patients. Find out more here: https://brevardzoo.org/leech-therapy-for-sea-turtles/
Want to learn even more? See how the Turtle Hospital used leech therapy to help one sea turtle in particular. https://www.turtlehospital.org/current-patients/leech-therapy/?month=feb&yr=2019