A new species of Hirudo (Annelida: Hirudinidae): historical biogeography of Eurasian medicinal leeches

Naim Saglam, Ralph Saunders, Shirley A. Lang, Daniel H. Shain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Background Species of Hirudo are used extensively for medicinal purposes, but are currently listed as endangered due to population declines from economic utilization and environmental pollution. In total, five species of Hirudo are currently described throughout Eurasia, with Turkey being one of the major exporters of medicinal leech, primarily H. verbana. Results To define the distribution of Hirudo spp. within Turkey, we collected 18 individuals from six populations throughout the country. Morphological characters were scored after dorsal and ventral dissections, and Maximum Likelihood (ML) and Bayesian Inference (BI) analyses resolved phylogenetic relationships using mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI), 12S ribosomal RNA (rRNA), and nuclear 18S rRNA gene fragments. Our results identify a new species of medicinal leech, Hirudo sulukii n. sp, in Kara Lake of Adiyaman, Sülüklü Lake of Gaziantep and Segirkan wetland of Batman in Turkey. Phylogenetic divergence (e.g., 10-14 % at COI), its relatively small size, unique dorsal and ventral pigmentation patterns, and internal anatomy (e.g., small and pointed atrium, medium-sized epididymis, relatively long tubular and arc formed vagina) distinguish H. sulukii n. sp. from previously described Hirudo sp. Conclusions By ML and BI analyses, H. sulukii n. sp. forms a basal evolutionary branch of Eurasian medicinal leeches. Phylogeographic interpretations of the genus identify a European Hirudo "explosion" during the upper Miocene followed by geological events (e.g., Zanclean flood, mountain building) that likely contributed to range restrictions and regional speciation of extant members of the clade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5
JournalBMC Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Bayesian Inference Analysis
  • Ejaculatory Bulb
  • Leech Therapy
  • Medicinal Leech
  • Uluabat Lake

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A new species of Hirudo (Annelida: Hirudinidae): historical biogeography of Eurasian medicinal leeches'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this