PLANS to release hundreds of one of Scotland’s rarest invertebrates have been unveiled after the species was found in three ponds in Dumfries and Galloway.

Medicinal leeches, which were once used for bloodletting treatments due to their habit of feeding on human blood, were found by a local naturalist near the Carrick Shore on the Solway Coast.

It is one of just three parts of the country where the species is known to survive, raising hopes that they may be found in further parts of Scotland in the future.

The leech has three strong interlocking jaws, allowing it to feed on deer, cattle, and occasionally humans.

Conservation experts from the wildlife charity Buglife and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland captured 14 specimens from a loch near Oban with hopes they will start breeding next year.

READ MORE: Jackie Baillie and Alister Jack win Scottish politician awards

If successful, they aim to release hundreds of leeches into lochs in the Highlands.

They are one of the UK’s largest leech species, growing up to 20 centimetres long, and are one of the 37 species being protected as part of a NatureScot conservation program to bring threatened species back from the brink of extinction in Scotland.

While they were harvested in their millions before the advent of modern medicine, over time habitat loss throughout the UK resulted in a serious decline in their numbers.

They require healthy populations of amphibians to feed on and warm, shallow lochs in order to lay their cocoons of eggs.