Petromyzontiformes are the order that Lamprey belongs to. The scientific designation for the Lamprey is Petromyzon Marinus. The combination is translated from Latin, which means “stone sucking.” The name is a reference to Lamprey mouths that have rasping teeth and are surrounded by a rounded, sucker-like plate.
The Agnatha, sometimes known as “jawless fish,” is an extinct order of vertebrates that includes Lamprey. There are approximately 38 recognized varieties of lampreys that are still alive, including five that have gone extinct. Instead of being made of bone, lamprey skeletons are made of robust, malleable ligaments.
Featured Image Credit: Tony Grover
Lamprey is a fish that strongly resemble eels due to its long, snake-like body and smooth, scaleless skin. In actuality, eels and lampreys are not closely related, contrary to the belief. Lampreys reach maturity when they are approximately 14-24 in long and weigh, on average, roughly 5 lbs.
Credit: USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation
Both dorsal and lateral regions of their bodies, along with their smooth textured skin, are normally greenish to yellow-brown in appearance, while their bellies generally have a lighter shade. Additionally, there might be very slight black marbling. Since Lamprey bodies are primarily formed of cartilage rather than bones, they are remarkably flexible.
Lamprey larvae consume minute organisms and organic matter that the gills sweep out of the seawater. In the parasitic form, adult Lampreys latch to other species and draw blood through a gash they rip in the host fish using a tough, tongue-like feature located in the center of the mouth plate. They frequently prey on species with thin skin, such as trout, speckled salmon, whitefish, northern pike, and bass, and they will also feed on sharks and rays.
The host fish normally survives the attack and continues to live after the Lampreys have finished feeding on it for a few days. If more than one lamprey is connected to the same fish at once, the host fish may die from diseases that form in the opening. Adult Lampreys who are not parasites do not eat while they are awaiting springtime to reproduce.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Lampreys are indigenous. Along the coasts of both North America and Europe, as well as in the western and northern Atlantic oceans, are regions where you might find them. Additionally, these fish may be spotted in the Black Sea, the western Mediterranean, the Connecticut River area, and around the Great Lakes shorelines.
Credit: Geoff Parsons
Both freshwater and saltwater environments are home to Lampreys at different times of their lifecycle. Lamprey’s kidneys undergo a transformation during their very last transformation from filter-feeders to parasitic, enabling species to penetrate oceans and lakes.
Mature Lampreys travel to small waterways to reproduce, where they dig narrow trenches behind stones or other obstructions in the deeper, speedy parts of the stream or at the tops of gravelly mounds. They spread out the silt by vibrating their body while simultaneously removing pebbles from the hole with their suction-disc mouths. A single pit must have at least 20 Lampreys for this activity to be done as a group.
The larvae go down after the adults breed and burrow into soft sediment on the bottom to filter feed for 3-6 years before becoming fully mature. Following metamorphosis, some species of Lampreys enter the parasitic stage, whereas other species don’t. After 1 or 2 parasitic stages, the adult migrates to a tiny stream to reproduce. The non-parasitic Lampreys continue to live in the narrow stream and reproduce in the following spring.
Lampreys’ main predators in their natural habitats are bigger fish that can eat and hunt them, like walleye and brown trout. Its numbers are so dangerous because it frequently serves as the top predator in regions where it has infested, like the Great Lakes. However, in the same locations, they are threatened by lampricides, which are chemicals intended to reduce their numbers, as well as other population-control measures.
Credit: Tony Grover
Facts about the Lamprey
- Within the Great Lakes, Lampreys are an invasive species.
- Lampreys are a member of a long-extinct family of jawless fish that existed before dinosaurs.
- The eyes, fins, and teeth of lampreys are absent at birth.
- Lampreys are parasitic organisms.
- Males Lampreys constrict females during reproduction in order to force out eggs.
How old are Lampreys when they reproduce?
Depending on how long each Lamprey spends in the larval and parasitic phases, they can spawn at ages ranging from 4 to 8. A Lamprey can mature into an adult at the age of 3 and reach sexual maturity at the age of 4 after finishing its parasitic stage a year later. If the Lamprey converts after six years and stays a parasite for an additional two years, it can take up to 8 years.
Are Lampreys poisonous?
Consuming these species will have negative effects since the mucus and serum of some lamprey species, including the Caspian Lamprey, River Lampreys, and Sea Lampreys, are known to be poisonous.
Do Lampreys bite humans?
While consumption of Lamprey flesh can be repulsive, in underwater environments, they aren’t remotely interested in biting or harming humans in any meaningful way. There hasn’t been a single record where Lampreys have attacked humans despite their offputting appearance.
What if you fell into a pool of Lampreys?
The average person has 1.3 gallons of blood in their body, so even if only a few cling to you, you’d be able to live. In this hypothetical scenario, it would take the filtering rate of 80-100 Lampreys constantly latched to draw enough blood in a timeframe of 24 hours to have a fatal result. This is entirely unlikely in a natural setting.