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The Lifecycle of Leeches


Reprinted each year around July 1st


Each year we experience a shortage of big leeches about now (early July). While this doesn't mean that there aren't ANY, it does mean that the supply becomes tight. For the past several years, I've re-printed a piece explaining the process - I'm pasting that piece below:

"Now that mid-summer is upon us, I thought I would explain a little bit about the life cycle of leeches. The ribbon leech is thought to have a 2-year lifespan. Around the middle of July, the mature leech will go into a spawn cycle and drop a "pod." Not long after dropping the "pod", these mature leeches will die. Over time, this "pod" will produce a new, almost microscopic hatch of leeches. These new leeches grow for a short time and then are thought to go dormant over the winter months. In the spring, they emerge as a "panfish grade." As the summer goes on, they will usually grow to a "regular grade" and by fall, a few will even make a "light large." Once again, they will go dormant over the winter, and in the spring they will grow to a "large" or even "jumbo." Around mid-July, they will go into their spawn and the cycle starts over again. "What does this have to do with the price of tea in China," you ask? As the large and jumbo leeches die off after they spawn, we are left with a much smaller leech to take their place. The overall supply drops dramatically, and the price goes up. This time of year is upon us now. The current supply of big leeches will dwindle away and we can expect to see the changes very soon. We should always have a meager supply of decent leeches, but expect these to be sold by the dozen ONLY. Any 1/2 pounds or pounds will soon be limited to a "first year" leech."

A couple weeks ago, I included a piece about the lifecycle of leeches in the Weekend Outlook. This week I'd like to address a couple points related to that piece: 1. Keep your leeches cool - placing them in one of these "livewell leech bags" is great when the water is in the 50's. Now that the surface temps (remember, that's where your livewell water comes from) are running in the mid 70's, YOU will kill them in a matter of minutes. The same goes for leaving them in your trunk while you stop for a burger - once they're damaged, they won't come back. 2. Buy what you need - some folks go long on their leeches and then try to hold the leftovers from week-to-week in the fridge. Again this is ok early in the year, but this time of year it's more likely that you will come back to a container of weak or dead bait. 3. Give them some room - the little cups that leeches often come in are not meant to be a permanent home for them, rather, a way for you to get them to a decent size container that holds a fair amount of water. Styrofoam buckets or Playmate-type coolers work best AND they help maintain cooler water temps for the leeches. Try these tips and keep those leeches happy!

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