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Haementeria ghiliani de Filippi, 1849(Giant Amazon Leech) "Grandma Moses"

LeechHaementeria ghilianii de Filippi, 1849 USNM 59930. The orange bead was attached to "Grandma Moses" while alive and distinguished it from other members of the University of California-Berkeley breeding colony.

The Giant Amazon Leech (Haementeria ghilianii de Filippi, 1849) is the world's largest leech, growing to a length of 18 inches (45.7 cm), and possibly living as long as 20 years. This green-brown species is a temporary blood-sucking ectoparasite on mammals and feeds by injecting a long proboscis [up to 6 inches (15.2 cm)] into the host's skin. Haementeria ghilianii had not been collected since 1893 and was thought to be extinct. "Grandma Moses" was 1 of 2 adults of H. ghilianii that was rediscovered in the 1970's in a pond in French Guiana by Dr. Roy Sawyer (image credit: Timothy Branning). "Grandma Moses" founded a leech breeding colony at the University of California-Berkeley and produced more than 750 offspring (valued at $150 each) in 3 years. More than 46 medical, neurological and natural history research publications were based on data from specimens reared at the University of California-Berkeley breeding colony. Some important discoveries from the offspring of "Grandma Moses" include the characterization and purification of several proteins with an anticoagulant andantimetastatic effect, including hementin which destroys human fibrin blood clots; charting connection of nerve cells; and functional morphology of salivary and nerve cells. Following its death, "Grandma Moses" was deposited in the collections of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USNM 59930.

Web sites


  • Halton, Cheryl. 1989. Those Amazing Leeches. Dillon Press. Reading level: Ages 9 and up.
  • Merrick, Patrick. 2000. Leeches (Naturebooks). Childs World. Reading level: Ages 9-12.
  • Davies, Ronald W. and Frederic R. Govedich. 2001.
    Annelida: Euhirudinea and Acanthobdellidae. In: Ecology and Classification of North American Freshwater Invertebrates. Second Edition. Thorp, J.H. and A.P. Covich eds. Academic Press. pgs 465-504.
  • Klemm, D. J. 1985. Freshwater Leeches (Annelida: Hirudinea). Pages 70-173 in D.J. Klemm, ed. A guide to the freshwater Annelida (Polychaeta, Naidid, and Tubificid Oligochaeta, and Hirudinea of North America. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., Dubuque, Iowa, USA.
  • Sawyer, R. T. 1972. North American freshwater leeches, exclusive of Piscicolidae, with a key to all species. Illinois Biological Monographs 46:1-154.
  • Sawyer, R. T. 1986. Leech biology and behaviour. Volumes I - III. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. 1065 pp.

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