leech babies toe

Backcountry Nightmares: A leech story you never thought possible

First, I would like to affirm that what I am about to share is 100% true.   I was there and it was awful.  Unfortunately, we don’t have picture or video evidence to back up the story.  This happened in 2012, a time before we habitually documented such incredibly unfathomable events.  To be honest, getting the camera out didn’t even cross my mind as there was no way I was getting close enough to capture the moment.  Though I must say, my husband, Will, handled the whole thing like a champ.  I would have personally amputated my toe and left it to rot in the woods.

The happy, unsuspecting couple.

The happy, unsuspecting couple.

The weekend’s setting was in our happy place, in the backcountry with a canoe, starting a three-day portaging trip. On the first day we had planned a long day of paddling. Eighteen kilometres, much of which ended up being into strong headwinds. When we finally reached our intended campsite, it wasn’t quite what we had hoped. It was nice enough, but the lake was small and shallow, which doesn’t make for very ideal swimming.  It’s also a bit of a concern for gathering drinking water. However, the next campsite was another eight kilometres away so we decided it would work for the night.

After setting up camp, I decided to take a late afternoon nap.  Don’t ask me why, but I absolutely love napping in the forest after a tough day of fresh air and physical exertion, so I was quite looking forward to this.


Will is not much of a napper, so he took out his guitalele, which he faithfully totes on most trips, and played some tunes in the middle of the small lake, laying in the canoe with his feet dangling in the water. 

Guitalele - an ukulele with 6 strings.

Guitalele - an ukulele with 6 strings.

After an hour or so of recuperating, we regrouped to make dinner.  It wasn’t long before Will noticed his toe was bleeding. On closer inspection there was a large and quite engorged leech suckled to the top of his second toe, its body curled between his second and third toes.  Disgusting I know.  It gets worse.  Though a bit grossed out, he pulled it off and washed out the open wound. Oddly, the toe continued to bleed quite a bit so he cleaned it again and I grabbed a Band-Aid from our medical kit.  The whole incident seemed harmless enough and we went about our evening relatively unfazed.


The next morning I woke up to Will examining his toe.  He had removed the Band-Aid to assess the damage, and the wound didn’t look good.  There was a sizable bright red bump where the leech had been.  It looked full and inflamed, but he said it didn’t hurt.  I warned him to keep an eye on it as leech wounds are easily infected, but he decided not to keep it covered as we would be in and out of the water all day.  Any covering was bound to come off anyway.  I had no issue with that logic, so we packed up camp and off we went.

Some fun, winding little streams to paddle on this route. 

Some fun, winding little streams to paddle on this route. 

Three or four hours later we were in the middle of a lake paddling, and had been for some time when Will noticed his toe was bleeding again. Odd for it to start bleeding for no reason. I wondered if he might have rubbed it on something, but he claimed he hadn’t and we left it at that.

Five or ten minutes later he piped up from the back of the canoe, “Holy $h!t!!!! There are babies coming out of it!!!”

Yup, that happened.  Six baby leeches came out of his toe.  They were the tiniest little leeches I have ever seen.  I only needed to see one before deciding that I wasn’t going near his mutant toe, but he did count them (as if he were a proud father or something?).  Six.  And he put them all back into the lake to live out their blood thirsty little leech lives. Honestly, WTF?

After the leeches were out, somewhat surprisingly, the toe wound closed and healed up perfectly as if nothing had happened. Will emerged unscathed, and I now have a paralyzing phobia of leeches.  We do continue to backcountry canoe camp in the same park.   We’ve even done that same route, and it continues to be one of our favourites.  So all things considered, maybe it won’t be the worst leech incident we ever encounter, though I certainly hope so.