Leeches, which are closely related to earthworms, can be found in any body of water that remains relatively still, including the Saint James and Roanoke Rivers in Virginia. There are more than 500 species of leeches in North America, and Virginia is home to at least a dozen.
Virginia Leech Habitat
Any collection of slow-moving water may become a habitat for leeches. Ponds, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, marshes and other bodies of water are prime habitat for leeches. Some leeches found in the tropics may be terrestrial; however, all leeches found in Virginia are aquatic.
J. "Clint" Turbeville, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Virginia Commonwealth University, cited the specific presence of leeches in the Saint James River in Virginia. If you are looking to find a leech, try areas of the Chesapeake Bay, the Roanoke River, lakes in Suffolk or ask a local Virginian to help you locate other local populations of leeches. If you look under rocks, logs and other items in rivers, lakes, ponds or other bodies of water, chances are that you will find leeches.
Leeches Specific to Virginia
According to "Freshwater Leeches of North America," the species of leeches found in Virginia include, but are not limited to, the following: Batracobdella picta, Placobdella ornata, Placobdella parasitica, Cystobranchus vividus, Cystobranchus virginicus, Piscicola punctata, Mollibdella grandis, Percymoorensis marmoratis, Macrobdella decora, Dina parva, Desserobdella picta and Erpobdella punctata.
Leeches found in Virginia are not limited to this list, and you should contact the Department of Conservation and Recreation if you think you have found a new species.
Macrobdella decora, the American Medicinal Leech
The Macrobdella decora, also known as the American medicinal leech, can be found in Virginia and will not hesitate to feed on humans, according to Dr. Turbeville. Other than blood, these leeches may also consume amphibian eggs and some invertebrates, such as snails or insect larvae. The Macrobdella decora is generally 50 to 90 millimeters in length.
Leeches of this species (and others) are sometimes farmed for medicinal purposes. They are used in medicine to reduce fluid build-up or to help heal blood vessels, especially in plastic surgery.
The Cystobranchus virginicus, which feeds on fish and their eggs, has been found to inhabit Virginia. This species has been studied in the Roanoke River, in Montgomery County, Virginia, according to "A New Species of Cystobranchus From Southwestern Virginia (Hirundinea: Piscicolidae)" by Richard L. Hoffman.
The Placobdella parasitica of Virginia is a blood-sucker that attaches to turtles. These leeches use their proboscis, a sharp, thin tube inserted into an animal, to feed. They attach the proboscis to the turtle's belly. These leeches are 38 to 64 millimeters in length.
The Desserobdella picta also does not feed on humans but rather focuses on amphibians (adult and larvae). It is one of the smaller Virginian leeches, averaging 13 to 25 millimeters in length.