Leeches arouse, almost universally, a “Yuck!” response out of all proportion to the pain and suffering they cause.
Our attitudes to small wildlife reflect our upbringing and experience and I’m constantly intrigued (and sometimes very quietly amused) by them. Most people I know “love wildlife” but only up to a point. They might love all mammals and birds but not reptiles, for instance, or like small lizards but not the bigones. Most of them love butterflies but many are not at all keen on spiders (I agree they are not usually so pretty but I like them just as much) – and then we reach the problematic types: flies, fleas, ticks, mozzies and of course leeches.
What is a leech?
We also tend to know very little about leeches. What kind of animal are they? They are obviously not vertebrates but they can’t be insects because they haven’t got six legs, so what what are they most closely related to?
When we’re birdwatching or bug-hunting it’s very easy to see what we expect to see and miss some new or unexpected creature because of it. I am sure I do it quite often but here are two beautiful little creatures that I wasn’t quite tricked by.
In each case I was lucky enough to see other individuals from viewpoints that made their identity clearer.
We often think of mother love as being a particularly human, or at least mammalian, attribute but it reaches all the the way down the evolutionary tree to the insect world, and to species we usually think of as dangerous, scary or just plain nasty. Perhaps we are usually wrong?
These reflections were prompted by my discovery on January 4 of a centipede mother-to-be curled protectively around her eggs in a cavity under a log. She is not very big, as centipedes go – perhaps 40 mm long.
The internet and digital photography have opened up wonderful opportunities for ordinary people to get involved in citizen science as observers of the natural world. Online meeting places and forums come and go but the best at the moment seems to be iNaturalist – https://www.inaturalist.org.
It’s a global project and the numbers are huge: 54 million observations by 1.4 million observers from nearly every country in the world when I looked recently. That presents a management problem, of course, which is solved by having countries run independent branches, e.g. https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/
Anyone at all can browse the content of the site but people have to sign up to participate. When that’s done (at no cost and very little trouble) they can upload their observations, help with identifying others’ observations, and join the discussion forums. It’s a big and complex site but not too difficult to negotiate because it is exceptionally well planned and because there is no need to use most of its functions until you want to. (I have to admit there are some that I haven’t bothered with in the year I have been a member.)
And ordinary people can make very useful contributions to the project, especially if they (we) are outside the big cities.