A close up of the lamprey’s eye and gills U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Sea lampreys are primitive fish native to the Atlantic Ocean. They don’t have jaws. Instead, their round mouths form a sucking disc filled with sharp teeth and a rasping tongue. Sea lampreys are different from fish in several ways. They don’t have any bones in their bodies, just cartilage. Their skin doesn’t have scales either.
Sea lampreys live in coastal and fresh waters. Adult lampreys are 12-20 inches long on average. They look similar to eels. They have brown or black backs, with paler bellies. Sea lampreys have one or two dorsal fins, large eyes, one nostril on the top of their head and seven gills on each side.
A lamprey’s life begins in freshwater, as a burrowing larvae. This larval stage can last three to fifteen or more years. Then, they transform into adults and begin living as predators/parasites in the ocean or lakes for twelve to twenty months. Adult lampreys feed by using their mouths to attach to a fish. They attach to fish with their suction mouth and teeth. They use their tongue to rasp through a fish’s scales and skin so they can feed on its blood and body fluids.
Lampreys were introduced to the Great Lakes by accident through shipping canals. They have had a major effect on the native fish population. Today , they can still be found in all of the Great Lakes. Much work has been done to control the lamprey population.
The teeth in the sucking disc mouth of the lamprey U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Several lampreys attached to a Lake Trout U.S. Geological Survey