Japan is rightfully billed as being an extremely safe country, and for the most part this extends to its natural environment. Lacking the wolves of Europe and North America, the lions and hippopotami of Africa, and the poisonous everything of Australia, there really isn’t a whole lot lurking in the Japanese animal kingdom that frightens us.

Or at least there wasn’t, until we heard the news that Japan is home to a species of super leeches that can even survive being frozen.

The bone-chilling discovery of the boneless creature’s superpower was made by a team of researchers including members from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. Oddly enough, scientists first stumbled across the shocking capabilities of the ozobranchid leech by accident while examining a turtle that had been frozen at minus-80 degrees Celsius (-112 degrees Fahrenheit) for half a year. Why researchers happened to have a frozen turtle lying around remains unclear.

“Damned scientists…”

Ozobranchid leeches prey on Chinese pond turtles (also known as Reves’ turtles, which can be found in both China and Japan), and as the reptile thawed, scientists discovered the leech attached to it begin squirming about. We can’t help but feel a little sorry for the leech, which woke up from six months of cryo-sleep to find its mouth wrapped around a dead animal.

▼ Although we imagine the bar for being grossed out is set a little higher when you look like this.

Intrigued by the leech’s cold resistance (or perhaps going all-out in their attempt to kill the beast once and for all), the team froze dozens of the invertebrates with liquid nitrogen, keeping them at a temperature of minus-196 degrees Celsius for 24 hours. Other experiments showed that the leeches can survive being frozen at minus-90 degrees for over two and a half years.

▼ This is great news for owners of pet leeches who don’t have time to take care of them while attending junior college (plus taking a semester off to find themselves).

The exact way by which the ozobranchid leeches can survive in such harsh conditions is still a mystery, but discovering how is the next order of business for Toru Suzuki, one of the team members and a professor at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. If the leeches’ cold resistance can be duplicated, Suzuki says the method could be used for improvements in transplant organ storage and frozen food production.

▼ By which he means we’ll be able to, for example, keep our fish sticks fresh longer, and not that we’ll be seeing “leech pops” in the supermarket…we hope.

Source: Yomiuri Online