Bloodsuckers: Legends to Leeches

The Royal Ontario Museum’s original exhibition Bloodsuckers: Legends to Leeches was on display at the ROM from November 2019 to March 2020.

Bloodsuckers exhibition poster with drawing of bird and an imagined wolf-like animalIt explored the fascinating science beneath the surface of some of history’s most enduring legends. Drawing visitors into the world of species across the globe that use blood as a vital food source, the exhibition featured live animals, larger-than-life displays, immersive installations and touchable models. Bloodsuckers explored the unique intersection between science and culture, fact and fantasy, using the ROM’s own collections to unlock the deep connections between the world of blood-feeding animals and their uncanny ability to fire people’s imaginations.

Blood is a vital life source for humans and an abundant food source for an astounding 30,000 different species, including birds, mammals, fish, insects, leeches and flatworms. Bloodsuckers pulled visitors into their world, starting on a microscopic level with the biology behind blood, delving into these diverse organisms and their feeding mechanisms in detail, and showing visitors just how clever blood-feeders are and the intricate ways they have evolved to drain blood and thrive on it.

The exhibition also explored the evolution of bloodletting, from hungry leeches feeding on patients in the name of health to barbers and physicians tapping veins for vitality in medieval and Victorian times. Current research on blood-borne diseases around the world and how leech anticoagulants—the strongest in the world—enable advancements in medical care highlights the impact blood-feeders continue to have on human health. The exhibition also armed visitors with knowledge on how to identify, avoid and heal bites from bloodsuckers, and to live in harmony with them.

Bloodsuckers was named the Overall Winner at the 32nd Annual American Alliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibition Competition.