The chemosensory ability of the predatory leech Whitmania laevis (Arhynchobdellida: Haemopidae) for prey searching

  • 240 Accesses

  • 5 Citations


Although prey-detecting and searching abilities of predatory leeches of rhynchobdellid or the Erpobdelliformes of arhynchobdellid species have been studied in the past, hirudiniformes leeches are rarely mentioned. In this study, we investigated the chemosensory ability for prey-detecting and searching in Whitmania laevis, a hirudiniformes species that mainly preys on freshwater snails, and examined if such ability aided in their prey selection. Five sympatric snail species, i.e., apple snail Pomacea canaliculata, thiarid snail Thiara tuberculata, viviparid snail Sinotaia quadrata, ear pond snail Radix auricularia swinhoei and tadpole snail Physa acuta were used as prey. Our results showed that W. laevis has the chemosensory ability to detect the waterborne odors of snails. However, they follow the snails by their mucus trails, and not by the odor that the snails leave in the water. Of these five snail species, W. laevis only followed the trails of the thiarid snails, ear pond snails and tadpole snails, and did not show a different response to the trails produced by snails of different sizes. Our results suggest that W. laevis can use waterborne odors to detect the existence of prey. They rely on mucus trails to follow their preferred prey, but do not distinguish between snails of a preferred size by their mucus trails. In addition, when following the trail of a preferred snail, W. laevis exhibits a newly described searching behavior, i.e., head tapping, and may use it to locate a snail trail and increase its probability of finding the trail-laying snail nearby.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Blinn DW, Pinney C, Wagner VT (1988) Intraspecific discrimination of amphipod prey by a freshwater leech through mechanoreception. Can J Zool 66:427–430

  2. Carté B, Faulkner DJ (1986) Role of secondary metabolites in feeding associations between a predatory nudibranch, two grazing nudibranchs, and a bryozoan. J Chem Ecol 12:795–804

  3. Clifford KT, Gross L, Johnson K, Martin KJ, Shaheen N, Harrington MA (2003) Slime trail tracking by the predatory snail, Euglandina rosea. Behav Neurosci 117:1086–1095

  4. Cooper WE (2000) Food chemical discrimination by an herbivorous lizard, Corucia zebrata. J Exp Zool 286:372–378

  5. Davies RW, Linton LR, Parsons W, Edgington ES (1982) Chemosensory detection of prey by Nephelopsis obscura (Hirudinoidea: Erpobdellidae). Hydrobiologia 97:157–161

  6. Davies RW, Dratnal E, Linton LR (1996) Activity and foraging behaviour in the predatory freshwater leech Nephelopsis obscura (Erpobdellidae). Funct Ecol 10:51–54

  7. Elliott EJ (1986) Chemosensory stimuli and feeding behavior of the leech, Hirudo medicinalis. J Comp Physiol A 159:391–401

  8. Hoefler CD, Taylor M, Jakob EM (2002) Chemosensory response to prey in Phidippus audax (Araneae, Salticidae) and Pardosa milvina (Araneae, Lycosidae). J Arachnol 30:155–158

  9. Lai Y-T, Chen J-H, Lee L-L (2010) Prey selection of a shell-invading leech as predicted by optimal foraging theory with consumption success incorporated into estimation of prey profitability. Func Ecol (in press). doi:10.1111/j.1365-2435.2010.01774.x

  10. Mathis A (2003) Use of chemical cues in detection of conspecific predator and prey by newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. Chemoecology 13:193–197

  11. Ogren RE (1995) Predation behaviour of land planarians. Hydrobiologia 305:105–111

  12. Pearce TA, Gaertner A (1996) Optimal foraging and mucus trail following in the carnivorous land snail Haplotrema concavum. Malacol Rev 29:85–99

  13. Sawyer RT (1986) Leech biology and behaviour. Clarenton Press, Oxford

  14. Shaheen N, Patel K, Patel P, Moore M, Harrington MA (2005) A predatory snail distinguishes between conspecific and heterospecific snails and trails based on chemical cues in slime. Anim Behav 70:1067–1077

  15. Simon TW, Barnes K (1996) Olfaction and prey search in the carnivorous leech Haemopis marmorata. J Exp Biol 199:2041–2051

  16. Su HC, Tu MC (2004) Food odor preference and slug mucus trailing behavior of Taiwan slug snake, Pareas formosensis. Master thesis, National Taiwan Normal University

  17. Weather CP (1989) Prey detection by some predatory Coleoptera (Carabidae and Staphylinidae). J Zool Lond 218:171–185

  18. Weissburg MJ, Zimmer-Faust RK (1991) Ontogeny and phylogeny in determining patterns of chemoreception: initial studies with fiddler crabs. Biol Bull 181:205–215

  19. Zimmer-Faust RK (1987) Crustacean chemical perception: towards a theory on optimal chemoreception. Biol Bull 172:10–29

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Ling-Ling Lee.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Crawling with head tapping (5.04 MB)

Normal crawling (5.03 MB)

Crawling with head tapping (5.04 MB)

Normal crawling (5.03 MB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lai, Y., Chen, J. & Lee, L. The chemosensory ability of the predatory leech Whitmania laevis (Arhynchobdellida: Haemopidae) for prey searching. Chemoecology 21, 67–74 (2011).

Download citation


  • Chemosensory ability
  • Freshwater snail
  • Leech
  • Prey searching
  • Head tapping
  • Trail following
  • Waterborne odors
  • Whitmania laevis