Background: Leeches have gained a fearsome reputation by feeding externally on blood, often from human hosts. Orificial hirudiniasis is a condition in which a leech enters a body orifice, most often the nasopharyngeal region, but there are many cases of leeches infesting the eyes, urethra, vagina, or rectum. Several leech species particularly in Africa and Asia are well known for their propensity to afflict humans. Because there has not previously been any data suggesting a close relationship for such geographically disparate species, this unnerving tendency to be invasive has been regarded only as a loathsome oddity and not a unifying character for a group of related organisms.
Principal Findings: A new genus and species of leech from Peru´ was found feeding from the nasopharynx of humans. Unlike any other leech previously described, this new taxon has but a single jaw with very large teeth. Phylogenetic analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial genes using parsimony and Bayesian inference demonstrate that the new species belongs among a larger, global clade of leeches, all of which feed from the mucosal surfaces of mammals.
Conclusions: This new species, found feeding from the upper respiratory tract of humans in Peru´ , clarifies an expansion of the family Praobdellidae to include the new species Tyrannobdella rex n. gen. n.sp., along with others in the genera Dinobdella, Myxobdella, Praobdella and Pintobdella. Moreover, the results clarify a single evolutionary origin of a group of leeches that specializes on mucous membranes, thus, posing a distinct threat to human health.
This article originally appeared in PLoS ONE, available at DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010057
© 2010 Phillips et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.