by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation
If I ask you to imagine a T. rex, what do you see? Probably something that looks a lot like this guy, right?
Or maybe this?
Or how about this guy?
Yeah, probably not.
Well, whatever images you conjure in your mind when you think of T. rex, now there’s another creature to add to the list. Meet Tyrannobdella rex.
This T. rex, whose name means “tyrant leech king,” is a new genus and species of leech from Peru, whose scientific description was just published this Wednesday. This new species has a single jaw and very large teeth. Creepy looking, right? Wait, it gets better.
Because leeches feed off of the blood of other animals, they’re parasites. Who’s this leeches primary host? It looks like it might be us. There are three documented cases of T. rex, and in each one the leech has been found in a person’s nasal cavity shortly after the person spent time in local lakes and streams.
Phylogenetic analysis (the study of evolutionary relatedness among organisms) indicates that T. rex is a member of a larger group of leeches, all of whom feed of mammalian mucosal membranes. Generally, leeches aren’t life threatening, but since T. rex makes its home in people’s noses, there’s a danger of choking and suffocation. We have our own leeches here in Colorado lakes and streams, but so far none that go up people’s noses (unless you put them there).