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My pond has leeches! How do I get rid of them? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A


Q: My pond has leeches! How do I get rid of them?

Tana – West Allis, WI

A: Leeches. They’re not for the squeamish. These little bloodsuckers – which are actually segmented worms related to earthworms – use their suction cup-like mouths and teeth to latch on to vertebrate and invertebrate animals, feeding on their blood.

The majority of leeches thrive in freshwater environments, though some species can be found on land and in the sea, too. Of the 700 different species of leeches, 100 are marine, 90 are terrestrial and the remaining 510 prefer habitats like your lake or pond.

One of the more common leeches found in North America is the Freshwater Leech or North American Leech. This brownish-green worm with black and red spots grows to about 2 inches long and lives in lakes, marshes and slow-moving streams.

Harmless – and Healthy

Historically, leeches have been used medicinally on humans to improve and restore blood circulation. The practice of leeching, or leech therapy, can be traced to India and Greece and has been done in both Europe and North America up until the 18th and 19th centuries. Though the practice waned for a time – likely a combination of the yuck factor and modern medicine – it’s slowing coming back into favor.

If a leech latches onto you, don’t worry. In most cases, it won’t do any harm. In fact, you might not even feel it as the tiny critter injects the spot with anesthetic-anticoagulant combo while attaching itself with its suckers. You can remove a leech by breaking its suction seal with your fingernail or another blunt object, causing the worm to detach its jaws.

Tiny Hitchhikers

The leeches in your pond have probably hitched a ride from visiting birds or plants that you’ve purchased and placed in your pond. Leeches will attach themselves to their host – like a duck or heron – and take in their fill of blood. Once they’re satiated, they’ll drop off and establish themselves in their new home. Leeches will also hide in plant roots and on the bottom of pots, and when you place them in your lake, they’ll happily move right in.

Fish Food

Fish love to gobble down leeches. A healthy fish population will, in most cases, keep leech numbers under control. Among game and lake fish, red ear sunfish do a great job of eating these worms. Other natural leech predators include turtles, crayfish and water fowl.

Prevention, Removal

Besides using your finned friends to control the leeches in your lake or pond, you can also try some of these recommendations:

•Control the muck on the bottom of your pond – which is where they lay their eggs and spend their off time – with a product like MuckAway™.
•Remove debris, cattails and phragmites from shallow areas of your pond.
•Add more leech-eating fish.
•Set a leech trap. Punch leech-size holes in a coffee or aluminum can, bait it with raw chicken and position it in a shallow area of your pond. When the worms go for the grub, they can get in – but not out. The burrs from the whole punch will prevent them from escaping. Remove the can once it’s full and repeat until the leeches are gone.

Pond Talk: What did you do the first time you found a leech locked onto your leg?

Pond Logic® MuckAway™ - Eliminate Muck Naturally

8 Responses

  1. Should I have a concern for my children swimming in the pond, for we found small leeches on them when they got out.

    • Hi Terry – Nope, they should be just fine. You can typically flick them off or put a pinch of salt and they’ll come right off. Follow the tips listed in the article to reduce their numbers in your pond.

      • Hi Mel, I thank-you for the quick response to my concern, the children having little leeches after swimming in our pond. What do you think of injesting them, can there be a problem? Terry

      • That’s better asked to a medical person. I do not think it’s a good idea. Leeches are typically in pond muck, so most time, they are found on legs.

  2. will leeches hurt my dog,,he loves my pond he enjoys swimming and he also drinks the water,it was dug for a swimming hole but we aquired leeches this year,,,:(..

    • Hi Jeanie,

      As long as they are not left on the animal for extended periods of time and any small wounds are cared for to prevent infection they should not cause to much trouble.

      • thanks so much i put a coffee can with bloody meat in it with holes to try to trap them but all i caught were snails? i have stood in and splashed the water a bit but i have yet to see any leeches only about 3 earlier in the summer,,is it possible they are gone??

  3. The first time I had a leach on me my Mom put salt on it and in no time the leach just fell off. I have been doing that ever since.

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