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Larger leeches attack from higher ground – size-dependent preferences for ambush sites in the Bornean terrestrial leech Haemadipsa picta

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2019

Krzysztof Miler
Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland
Aleksandra Gurgul
Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland
Maja Peryga
Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland
Marcin Czarnoleski*
Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland


The rain forests of South-East Asia represent a biodiversity hotspot of terrestrial leeches, but we have only fragmentary and often anecdotal information on this component of tropical communities. To address the foraging tactics of terrestrial leeches, we studied the vertical distribution of Haemadipsa picta on foliage in a Bornean tropical rain forest. We investigated the links between leech body length and the above-ground height of their ambush positions under natural conditions and in a choice experiment performed under semi-natural conditions. We studied 167 leeches, which varied considerably with respect to body length (4–29 mm). On average, the leeches ambushed at lower heights under natural conditions than under experimental conditions (47.7 cm vs. 67.5 cm), though the heights of ambush positions overlapped considerably. Leeches that chose higher ambush positions under natural conditions consistently chose higher ambush positions in the experiment (Pearson r = 0.29). Under both natural and experimental conditions, leech body length was positively correlated with the height of ambush positions (Pearson r = 0.48); on average, a 1-mm increase in body length corresponded to a 2–3 cm higher ambush position. Our findings suggest that H. picta individuals actively choose hunting locations according to their above-ground height, shifting their ambush sites over ontogeny to higher foliage. We hypothesize that growing leeches might target different prey following ontogenetic shifts in the foraging optima, ultimately decreasing intraspecific competition.

Short Communication
© Cambridge University Press 2019 

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