YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
This week’s slippery subject has lived on planet Earth for an estimated 340 million years!
Their unique body and interesting eating habits make them very different from what you might typically think of when you hear the word fish.
Prepare to get prehistoric as we explore the world of lampreys!
At a glance, you might think that lampreys are a type of eel or a huge leech.
But they’re actually neither!
Their long, tubular bodies hold everything a fish needs to be… well… a fish!
They’re more similar to sharks than eels, thanks to their cartilage-based skeleton, which is different from the more rigid bones found in a typical fish.
Lampreys have large eyes, dorsal fins, anda set of gills on each side of their body. These gills allow them tofilter oxygen as they glide through the waterwhile attached to their prey.
While large eyes and dorsal fins may sound like typical characteristics of a fish, the moment you get a look at their mouth, things get a lot less familiar.
Lampreys are jawless fish.
Instead of having a mouth that hinges open and closed to clamp down on or chew food, they have a folding, circular mouth that opens up to look like a suction cup!
But unlike a soft and squishy suction cup, their mouths are filled with row after row of sharp hooked teeth.
Instead of taking bites of their food, lampreys simply attach to a fish using their teeth, then suck their tasty insides out while hitching a ride.
While this might sound like a strange pattern of eating, it’s very effective.
A single lamprey can kill up to of 240 pounds of fish in its 6-year life span!
Because of their fish-consuming proficiency, lampreys are considered to be an active threat to a range of freshwater and saltwater environments.
While there are many native lamprey species throughout the world, invasive species can quickly upset an aquatic ecosystem.
Lampreys will only spawn once in their entire lifetime, but they certainly make it count!
A single nest of lamprey eggs can easily reach more than 80,000 individual eggs.
If even a small fraction of those eggs reach maturity, that’s a whole lot of lampreys!
When lamprey eggs first hatch, they enter a larval stage.
The tiny larva will filter feed during this time, eatingtiny microbes and bacteria in the sand surrounding their nests.
Soon, they’ll undergo metamorphosis and reach the parasitic stage of their life.
It’s during this time that they pose the greatest threat.
The size of lampreys varies drastically, depending on the species.
Most freshwater species are smaller, with some only reaching around5 inchesand weighing less than 100 grams.
However, larger varieties—including sea lampreys—can reach lengths of 40 inches long and weigh as much as 5 pounds!
Lampreys die after mating, so their population cycles tend to ebb and flow.
Still, the sheer number of eggs they lay can make them a formidable pest if they reach areas with ample food and few predators.
This can make them a troublesome critter forwildlife conservation groups as they strive tokeep them out of lakes and streams where they don’t belong.
Lamprey meat is a delicacy in some countries, including France, Spain,and Portugal. They are often served pickled or in soups and pies.
Lampreys are anadromous fish. This means that their kidneys have adaptations which allow them to live in either fresh or saltwater, depending on which stage of life they are in.
If you can’t wait to grow up, be glad you’re not a lamprey. Their stages of life can be somewhat inconsistent,sometimes spending as much as four years of their expected six-year lifespan in larval form!
Despite having eyes, lampreys most often use their sense of smell to navigate! They also communicate using pheromones, a fact some researchers have used to help trap or divert invasive lamprey populations.
See a range of lamprey big and small and check out their toothy grin in this video from Animalogic.