The Diversity of Leech Colourations


hirudomed There live more than 600 leech species on earth. In the course of their incredibly long history of evolution (300 million years at least, some references quote 600 million years), they have adopted rather sophisticatedly to their changing habitats. The very first leech species could not make use of blood from vertebrates since these species and in particular mammalians turned up only millions of years later. However, leeches have quickly adopted to these changes.


 Many reputable references claim that these medicinal leeches need blood from vertebrates as obligatory prerequisite for their reproduction. Current research is investigating this issue.


 However, not only the food sources of the leeches are very specific. The outward appearance of the medicinal leech varies in a fascinating way. The efficiency of the medicinal leeches does not basically differ. All kinds inject the famous saliva chemical substances cocktail, well-known for its therapeutic effects.   


 There are leech species with very light yellow skin with rather ordinary back maculation. Other leeches look medium to dark green with marked orange patterns and two lateral light "rally stripes". Other ones have nearly black backs.


 The abdominal maculation also shows variations. Some species exhibit uniform light olive-green abdomens, other ones show distinct dark embedded particles, or are completely black. 


 In our ponds in Biebertal all variations and hybrid forms can be found. This diversity of colourations and markings indicates the adaptations to the various biospheres. They all are more or less identical with respect to their physiologic efficiency. They give delight with their natural beauty and diversity. Their elegant swimming style is unique.


 Professor Kutschera (University Kassel/Germany) has carefully investigated genetic differences of the various leech phenotypes. However, these genetic differences are not very important in view of the practical use: the diversely looking animals all help in the same way when being used in therapy. Let us simply enjoy the imaginativeness of nature. 


 Why do you find here only a few facts concerning questions like evolutional age or species modification? The answer lies in the rather new and not very widespread activities of this scientific section. Much is presently done, but there are more open than answered questions. In the meantime, more and more people trace the secrets of this fascinating Hirudo. However, still much more is presently known about some tropical spiders as compared to our longtime companion and therapist, the medicinal leech


The Significance of Acupuncture Points in Medicine


 Leech therapists discuss controversially if the efficiency of leech therapy might be enhanced with the placement of leeches directly on the acupuncture points. This discussion is mainly focussed on the treatment of orthopaedic diseases (e.g. gonarthrosis). 


 A recent article on the medicinal significance of acupuncture is an interesting contribution to this discussion (LEHMANN, HANJO, Süddeutsche Zeitung 186, August 14/15, 2010, page 20). The author is physician and head of the German Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Deutsches Institut für Traditionelle Chinesische Medizin (TCM)).


 The sensational reports of the French Georges Soulié (1878-1955) fostered the high reputation of chinese acupunture in Europe and USA. In Germany, these reports contributed  to the appointment of physicians as qualified acupuncture therapists. German health insurance funds reimburse the charges for acupuncture treatment of several pain syndromes. 


 Georges Soulié has been denoted in the quoted article as a West-Eastern charlatan since he had raised himself unjustifiably to the peerage (Soulié de Morants), and he brought up certain unproven statements not supported by representatives of chinese medicine:

  • Allegedly, Soulié cured the population of Peking in 1901 from cholera with the help of his recently acquired acupunture technique. 
  • His classification of meridians and acupunture points categories (e.g. tonicising or sedating points, alarm-, master-, and cleft points) lacks any scientific basis and could not show any therapeutic efficacy so far.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Quotation: "No matter where you prick".


Acupuncture has been practised in China since more than 1000 years. However, it has lost its importance over the centuries. In 1822, acupuncture was prohibited in China by the Imperial Medical Academy and had only a low status over the following years. 


 The enthusiasm aroused by Soulié in Europe and USA by his reports on acupuncture, initiated also in China some kind revitalised importance. Ultimately the significance of acupuncture in China is based on the high reputation in the Western countries, related to the financial advantages of exporting acupuncture (e.g. seminars, books, material). Quotation: "The reputation of traditional chinese medicine (TCM)is only based on the excitement in the West".


 The article concludes: Chinese acupuncture -in the West in contrast to China- has reached an inappropriate, scientifically insufficiently substantiated significance.  The doctrine of point categories is in particular questionable. As a consequence, no relevance for the methodolgy of leech therapy (points of placement) can be deduced.


 Discussion: In the discussion of this article it is argued that the "West-Eastern charlatan" Soulié de Morant  did never have the importance for the introduction of acupuncture in medical science as claimed in the article. Soulié de Morant is supposed to be not very widely known in Western medicine. The general significance of acupuncture in China is estimated much higher in this discusssion as compared to the statements in this article. 


 Further contributions of this discussion refer to the positive clinical results of acupuncture in neurologic and orthopaedic diseases, as well as in chronic pain syndromes.


 With respect to leech therapy, this article indicates that the specifity of acupunture points (presumably except the nausea point) has not yet been proven scientifically. As conclusion, the well-directed placement of leeches on the acupuncture points cannot be recommended as a general application technique. Here, too the individual experience of the therapist is key.