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Discouraging Leeches

 
steward
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I severely dislike leeches. It's always a bad feeling to get out of the water from swimming to find leeches on your feet. We go swimming sometimes at a nearby lake, and the leeches have gotten worse each year. There used to be no leeches in the section where we swim, and now I get a few every time I get in.

The bottom used to be very sandy, and now it has a lot more leaf litter and is muddy on the bottom. It seems like the leeches like this new habitat and are making themselves at home. I wonder if I raked out some of the leaf litter and mud on the bottom and it became more sandy again if that would help?

The major factor that I think is contributing to there being more leeches, is the reduction of smaller fish like bluegill and sunfish that eat leeches. I think it's a result of having a huge turtle population combined with there not being a lot of habitat for the smaller fish to hide. I wander if increasing the habitat for the smaller fish and as a result increasing their numbers will help, resulting in more of them hopefully eating more leeches?

I've also seen some DIY leech traps using meat as bait, but I feel like this may just be addressing the symptom, and the top two strategies may help address the actual cause of there being so many leeches.

Has anyone used any of these strategies with success, or have any other ideas to help discourage leeches?
 
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That's too bad your lake is getting full of leeches. While I don't have experience with aquatic leeches, we have "mountain leeches" (yamabiru) which are super annoying and everywhere. I had no idea that leeches existed out of water!


They like to wait in leaf litter and can sense your warmth, breath, shadow, and movement.

A creepy video of their searching behavior:


I had one try to bite my backside while squatting in my own garden. Now I tuck my shirt in.

Bug spray or "mountain leach fighter spray", which is just deet, keeps them off. Also saltwater works ok, and we carry a salt shaker with us to sprinkle on if we do get bit. They let go right away after being salted.

Anyway, this doesn't help you with your aquatic leeches. I think your plan is spot on.
Remove their habitat by clearing leaves and debris.
Promote the fish population. You could try some floating cages or sheltered areas the turtles can't get to.

I would maybe try the coffee can trap at least in the beginning. It could be helpful to reduce the population quickly. Then after removing habitat and increasing predators, hopefully the leech population wouldn't bounce back.

I would add also that turtles don't taste too bad! Not sure if yours are protected or anything....
 
Steve Thorn
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Wow Amy, that is very interesting! I had heard of land leeches, but I didn't know they were that successful in finding a host. They make the aquatic leeches look not nearly as bad.

It cracked me up when the guy in the video was looking at the leech about to suck his blood and said, "Very interesting, that's a great shot!"

Thanks for the encouragement and tips for discouraging the aquatic leeches in the lake, I'm hoping that using some of these strategies will help reduce their numbers, and I hope you don't have any more leech encounters either!
 
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Its definitely a lack of fish problem.  I dug a pond going on 3 years ago now. Its had ducks from the beginning. Its been fun watching it go through evolution. Frogs were the first to arrive. Last year it got overrun with snails and leeches! We only noticed because tadpoles were dying at an alarming rate and after investigating the tadpoles were covered with leeches. Thousands of them were dying.  I guess they come in on bird feet and start reproducing.  I put 25 red ear perch and 25 hybrid blue gill along with 2 lbs of fat head minnows in the pond and all the leeches are gone, some snails are there but much more controlled.  I did not give the fish any habitat because I could not justifying putting anything into this hole I paid to have material taken out of lol!
 
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Eric Hammond wrote:Its definitely a lack of fish problem.  I dug a pond going on 3 years ago now. Its had ducks from the beginning. Its been fun watching it go through evolution. Frogs were the first to arrive. Last year it got overrun with snails and leeches! We only noticed because tadpoles were dying at an alarming rate and after investigating the tadpoles were covered with leeches. Thousands of them were dying.  I guess they come in on bird feet and start reproducing.  I put 25 red ear perch and 25 hybrid blue gill along with 2 lbs of fat head minnows in the pond and all the leeches are gone, some snails are there but much more controlled.  I did not give the fish any habitat because I could not justifying putting anything into this hole I paid to have material taken out of lol!



What about the permaculture ethic of fair share and all life being valuable? Don't we have an obligation to these little guys as creatures who manipulate other species so readily? I am distressed frequently by the extent to which we view only the yield as this does not seem to be in keeping with sustainability.
 
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One of the first species to disappear when the aquatic ecosystem is compromised is the noble leech. A thriving aquatic system has leeches. I start to worry about lakes where they once were where they now are but memories.

If you've got a glut of them, I hope there's a favourite fish species that either eats the leeches, or else one that will eat the sunfish and bluegill to feed you. I like the idea of increasing predator fish habitat. All that might need doing is to stop removing  fallen trees and half-submerged ones from most of the waters' edge.

If you can stock the body of water, I would suggest just the minnows if you have a remnant small fish population. They will find your added shelter elements, and those shallower areas will teem with minnows as food and smaller leech predators. As much as I love the humble leech, I would rather swim with minnows. The worst they will do is nibble my dead foot skin.

-CK
 
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D.W. Stratton wrote:
What about the permaculture ethic of fair share and all life being valuable? Don't we have an obligation to these little guys as creatures who manipulate other species so readily? I am distressed frequently by the extent to which we view only the yield as this does not seem to be in keeping with sustainability.



Everything in balance.  

I appreciate that the title of the thread is "discouraging leeches" -- not "annihilating the existence of all leeches everywhere for all time".  Permaculture is all about manipulation, and most of us do this daily.  In fact, many of the very lakes that this thread is discussing were man-made, the ultimate in manipulation of the land and water.  We manipulate our gardens to attract beneficial insects who then kill the pests.  We manipulate the flow of water across the landscape with swales and other water capture strategies.  We manipulate the natural building of soils by mob grazing ruminants and getting the cattle to poop where we most need the fertility by placing their water source where the soil is poorest.  We manipulate the length of the growing season by building greenhouses, raised beds, and using shade cloth.  I even manipulate people into trying foods like moringa or chaya by blending it into a smoothy or hiding it in a stir fry.  

The very definition of permaculture is managed ecosystems.  Managed, manipulated . . . a lot of overlap there.

The OP describes a situation where the leeches have gotten out of balance, perhaps due to the over-abundance of turtles.  The whole system is out of balance.  If we have an "obligation", it's to bring balance back to the system so that everyone benefits, including the folks who want to go for a swim.  I don't think we are in any danger of leeches someday going extinct, nor of completely ridding a lake of them and thus removing an important food source for fish and others.  
 
pollinator
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While I hate to resurrect old posts, and as someone who's wife is petrified of leaches and ticks and other blood sucking animals... I can only share what we use to do at a summer camp. We had a swim area with a walkout dock and some buoys. Every year inside the designated swim area we would take rakes and rake out all the muck and leaves and pine needles that had fallen since the previous year. The years we did that we never saw a leach on a kid in the swim area. If you went on the other side of the dock there was several inches of muck. If you were in the muck at all it was rare to NOT see a leach on your feet.

Based on my own observations the OP's idea to rake out the swim area of muck should work quite well. And if it is just the swim area it will not have any great effect on the leech population.

**Note, I understand there is a technical difference between a leech and a blood sucker. We had whichever kind live in the northeast and are quite small - around 1 or 2 inches long.
 
pollinator
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Matt McSpadden wrote:While I hate to resurrect old posts....



Yeah, I'll add as well, and after the fact, but hey, I found the thread just now, so maybe others will find it remains useful too.

Best leech remover I ever met was a duck named "Fluffy Quacker" who used to join us kids when we went for a swim in the brook (in Maine too). He'd dive down, come up with several leeches on his breast, eat them all off, and dive for another course of "leech de canard".

I guess now we might label him as a trap species, or a leech predator. Back then he was just our buddy at the swimming hole.
 
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Some times hollow pipes can be put into dames / ponds for fish to hide in and not be detrimental to the 'expensive hole'.
 
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I'm not sure if anyone else has mentioned this, but leeches are an indicator species of poor water quality. Way back when in high school, my class was a part of a study at the local community college. The entire premise was that you would go to a couple different streams and collect samples of aquatic life. Then you would go through your samples and identify each one. You could tell the health of the stream by what was living in it, and leeches were an indicator that things weren't going so well. So if you improve your water quality, other things will move in and outcompete the leeches. Or maybe leeches don't like clean water. Not sure which, or it could be something else entirely, but there you go.
 
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You could continue trapping them while you increase habitat for your fish, trap the turtles too. I've heard turtles are tasty, never had one myself, so there's a potential food source while combating a problem. You could also sell off the leeches you trap, as fish bait, I hear fish go nuts for em; an income stream from your main issue 👍👍
 
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Do turtles eat leaches?
 
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Amy Arnett wrote:That's too bad your lake is getting full of leeches. While I don't have experience with aquatic leeches, we have "mountain leeches" (yamabiru) which are super annoying and everywhere. I had no idea that leeches existed out of water!



Yikes. Do those tick remover devices work for those?
That those things exist is not something I am glad to learn before a trip! :)
 
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