Having attached itself to the host animal, it pierces the skin and injects an anaesthetic to hide the pain of its bite so that the host does not find the leech and remove it, and an anticoagulant chemical, which prevents the host's blood from clotting whilst the leech feeds. The length of time a leech may feed seems to vary. One surveyor, as an experiment, allowed a leech to feed on him and it fed for 83 minutes.

Leeches find their host animals by detecting disturbance in the water, and they can prey on small creatures as well as large. A frog or a newt, for example, can die from excessive blood-loss following an attack by a leech. Leeches may also behave as predators on some species of fish such as sticklebacks, as well as on great-crested newts and marsh frogs.