Zookeepers at ZSL London Zoo have welcomed a bloodsucking trio to the BUGS exhibit – after rehoming three leeches mysteriously abandoned outside a veterinary surgery in Whitstable, Kent.
The three real-life ‘vampires’ were found in a tank on the vet’s doorstep, with nothing but a note that read: ‘Sorry, can’t look after them anymore’ – and had been hunting for a new host since April.
In a spooky coincidence, the surgery happened to be local to ZSL head invertebrate keeper Dave Clarke, who heard of their plight and ‘invited them in’ to live at the Zoo.
“Their story has made them very popular with keepers at the Zoo. Leeches may not have the broad appeal of other more charismatic animals, but they’re incredible ambassadors for the amazing - and more gruesome - abilities of the natural world,” explained Dave.
The trio - nicknamed Buffy, Angel and Spike after the 90s vampire series - arrived last week and are now receiving the best of care at the BUGS exhibit. They’ll be in quarantined quarters for a month while their health is assessed, before joining the Zoo’s legion of leeches.
“With their gruesome reputation and eating habits you might think feeding time would be a bloodbath for the slimy animals - but leeches are surprisingly efficient,” says Dave.
“They have three jaws with over 100 tiny sharp teeth on each, which they use to latch onto their food sources. Ducts in between the teeth release both an anaesthetic and a harmless anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing, so they can feed quickly and painlessly from their hosts.
“To feed the leeches here at the Zoo we fill empty sausage casings with blood from specialist medical suppliers, which they latch onto and feed from until they’re full – then they simply detach themselves and drop off.
“We’re glad to be able to give these three leeches a home – just in time for the most gruesome night of the year!”