Leeches – They Really Suck

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“Leeches,” calmly said Ian, the manager at our lodge in Khao Sok, Thailand, in reference to hiking at the nearby park. “Bring DEET to get them off.”

“No problem,” I thought. “If I stay out of the swimming holes, I’ll be fine.” I figured they would be at least six inches long so easy to spot and avoid.

IMG_1422frog

Friendly park wildlife

My friend, Sabrina, and I had come to Khao Sok because the lodge we picked was within walking distance from a national park full of waterfalls and wildlife. We’d wanted to hike in Thailand for weeks now but hadn’t found an easy way to get to places without paying for a tour or renting a motorbike.

So after breakfast and a pep/prep talk by Ian, we set out to hike in Khao Sok National Park. I was counting on some dips in waterfalls and careful immersion in the swimming holes so wore water booties, shorts, and a shirt over a swim suit.

We had a map of all of the waterfalls and swimming holes, and the farthest was about 7 kilometers (a bit over 4 miles) so seemed like an easy afternoon walk.

It had rained most of the night before so we walked through some mud and puddles while enjoying the shade of the trees. The scenery was very much as claimed, like something out of Avatar, with vines and tall canopies of trees amidst the strange calls of critters of maybe birds, insects, or larger animals. The signs claimed there even said there was wild elephants and tigers in this park!

About half an hour into our hike, Sabrina happened to look down at the crocs she was wearing and saw a little wiggly worm hanging off of her pants above the shoe. Yelling “leech!,” she knocked it off. Then we stared in horror at the culprit bouncing around on the ground.

After that I quickly checked my feet. Nothing wiggling on them. Whew!

However, that did not last long. During one of our periodic leech checks, I was horrified to see numerous little worms trying to burrow into my booties. And then when I checked my ankle, I found one leech attached! After whacking at it repeatedly with a piece of bark, it finally released and slithered away. I then had to give up on the bark and smack the remaining little guys off of my booties!

Here’s a video of the partially fed vampire leech! (Pardon the bouncy video. I was still recovering from my leech trauma so not feeling too steady! We wanted to shoot a video showing a leech actually sucking on one of us, but just couldn’t do it! Could you?)

We did find that the leeches fell off if we sprayed them with DEET so we then sprayed our feet and legs liberally with DEET, hoping this would keep them off us!  This might have helped marginally but they did continue to show up on my booties. We did find that it was less creepy checking and removing them from each other than on ourselves!

Sabrina’s crocs fared much better since the little blood-suckers couldn’t stick to them so we thought she’d escaped being a blood donor.

Exhausted from the continual leech check and removal, we decided to take a break  with a cool dip in river, of course after checking the water for leeches. That’s when I noticed an expanding three-inch red spot on Sabrina’s pants and soon found that she had been leeched, and leeched badly! Apparently they drop off when they are full so this one had already gone its merry way, but left a wound that bled profusely for over an hour. (Leeches insert an anticoagulant into the wound so it doesn’t clot while they are feeding. Thus the holes always bleed a lot.)

At that point, we decided to turn around and head back as fast as we could. We bashed off a few more leeches on the way, including one that tried to bite Sabrina when she removed it by the tail. (At dinner, our Internet leech research said during leech removal it was best to pinch it off at the head. Ick!)

Leech-wear!

Day two leech-wear!

The next day we tried again to hike the park, this time I wore running shoes, socks, pants, and hair bands around the bottom of the pants. Sabrina wore all of her socks (three pairs) and her crocs. No leeches were in sight on this gorgeous sunny day so hiked along happily, thinking there were no leeches at this end of the park.

Soon the rain came and poured hard for over 10 minutes. We still felt safe since we had seen no leeches – yet. That feeling did not last long. Apparently the rain brought them up, like earthworms, to the surface. Suddenly they were all over our feet and we were smacking them off each other! (I may have flung one onto my elbow since later I found a bleeding hole there, though no wiggly blood sucker!) The leeches seemed very single-minded, reaching out and stepping forward each time, searching for food, drawn by the warmth of living creatures with blood. (See the video of this determined leech, carefully traveling along looking to reach out and touch someone.)

That’s when we decided it was time to turn around and head back the way we came. We managed to return to our lodge without any more leech attacks.

With a feeling of relief, we reached our bungalow, happy to be back and out of leech territory. Unfortunately we hadn’t counted on hitchhikers.

Inside my shoe I found one squished leech and another lively one on top of my sock. Sabrina whacked it repeatedly till it finally stopped moving. It started moving again later so she smacked it dead this time and knocked it off the porch (since it was grossing her out). Very resilient buggers, perhaps because they don’t have any bones to break.

We enjoyed our hikes in Khao Sok but really feel we’d given enough of ourselves there. So we left a day early, relieved and hoping we had left all of the leeches behind.

We had gotten more wildlife than we’d hoped for, and not of the kind we wanted.

How do you feel about hiking among leeches? Would you do it?


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1 Comment

  1. bobby bunny

    Great reading. Not your everyday walk in the park.
    Thanks.

    Reply

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