Leeches in Australia – all you need to know

You may be surprised to hear that there are more than 100 varieties of leeches in Australia.

As hikers and people who enjoy the outdoors, it’s important for us to understand where we are likely to encounter leeches, and also any dangers they present.

Given their preference for the wet, you can go a long way to avoiding leeches by walking in the dry season, as well as staying away from rivers and long, damp grass.

​Leeches in Australia

The most common variety in Australia is the Land-Dwelling Jawed Leech, which are characterised by the teeth they use to attach.

While having not been studied in depth, there is no evidence of leeches transmitting disease. They also cause very little pain, and don’t leave any kind of wound.

Wettropics.gov.au report that the only real danger leeches can present is if they fasten you your eyeball, in which case you should wait 15-40 minutes until the leech detaches itself.

Some people do, however, have an allergic reaction, and infection is also possible, so ensure you seek medical advice if the bite doesn’t quickly clear up or you have any further concerns. 

​Avoiding Leeches

Leeches attach to the skin, and will usually make their way up over your boot and socks to find the bare skin of your leg.

Be aware though, that leeches are also able to get through the tiniest of holes, so are perfectly capable of getting through a boot and sock if you are not vigilant.

If there are leeches around, cover your skin – tightly woven fabrics are best.Try and avoid brushing up against grass or trees, and keep an eye out particularly when you sit down for a break.

Comon preventative measures include gaiters, and insect repellents. Leech socks are another option. 

​Removing Leeches

If you happen to get bitten by a leech, don’t panic, it doesn’t hurt and you’re not in any danger.

It’s best not to just pull leeches off as this can leave the mouth attached, and can also tear the skin which may then become infected.

The easiest approach is to wait until the leech is done and drops off by itself. This should take 40min max.

However, if you don’t like this idea, other common methods of detaching leeches include exposing it to heat such as with a lighter or sprinkling it with salt. Alcohol or insect repellent also works.

You can also slide a fingernail or pocket knife under the biting end and slowly pry it away from the skin.

To reduce the chance of infection, clean the wound like you would any other, with antibacterial treatment or alcohol.

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The Adventure Lab

At The Adventure Lab, our goal is to provide high-quality, actionable information and advice to help you plan for your next adventure. Our team of writers consists of professional mountain guides, personal trainers, exercise physiologists and more.