The marine lamprey of the Atlantic Ocean have made their way inland to fresh water lakes formerly denied them, infesting the Great Lakes and the tributary rivers that feed into them. A dramatic loss of bio-diversity is resulting as efforts to curtail their population and spread is underway.
-Some quotes, taken directly from an Environment Canada website:
“…By the 1950s, (the) sea lamprey had helped bring the once vibrant Great Lakes fishery to the brink of collapse. Virtually every fish caught had a lamprey wound; some bore the scars of 10 or more attacks.”
“…Today more fish are destroyed by sea lamprey than all other causes combined, including natural causes and sport, tribal and commercial harvest.“
Close-Up of the Mouth of a Lamprey Eel
They have a ferocious-looking mouth filled with rasping teeth which they use to rasp the flesh of their host fish and consume its blood and tissues. An anti-coagulant in their saliva causes the wound to remain fresh and weeping sustenance to the parasite, preventing the wound from healing while the parasite remains attached. They not only drink the blood and fluids of their host, they use their rasping tongue to scrap flesh and tissue to consume. The host often dies from the injuries it sustains from these vampires.
What Can We Learn From Lamprey Eels?
Nature magazine has suggested that these creatures possess a specialized immune system and have aspects of which are unrelated to the antibodies found in mammals. Also cited are that lampreys seem to have either a high tolerance for iron overload in their bodies or that they have the ability to detoxify this metal from their system. Lampreys can be found in water considered somewhat polluted and still fare well. Water with high iron content (such as near a waste treatment plant, municipal water outlets, etc) is not preferred by most other fish but lampreys seem to tolerate it well. Perhaps if this is a detoxification process they employ, it can be studied and a process or antidote might be discovered and applied to benefit other fishes. The ability for tuna, cod and other commercial fish to rid themselves of toxic mercury and other heavy metals built-up in their bodies for instance, would be a valuable result of such findings.
Close-Up of a Lamprey Eel Mouth
From Wikipedia, comes mention of lampreys from literature;
Vedius Pollio, a slave owner, was punished by Augustus for attempting to feed one of his slaves to the lampreys in his fishpond for the clumsy act of having broken a crystal cup;
…one of his slaves had broken a crystal cup. Vedius ordered him to be seized and to be put to death in an unusual way. He ordered him to be thrown to the huge lampreys which he had in his fish pond. Who would not think he did this for display? Yet it was out of cruelty. The boy slipped from the captor’s hands and fled to Caesar’s feet asking nothing else other than a different way to die—he did not want to be eaten. Caesar was moved by the novelty of the cruelty and ordered him to be released, all the crystal cups to be broken before his eyes, and the fish pond to be filled in…
-Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca, or Seneca the Younger)
(c. 4 BC – AD 65)
Lamprey Eel as a Food Item
It only looks revolting? Cooked in it’s own blood, I have read. Despite it’s unappealing appearance, it is said to be actually quite good. But I have my reservations about that. But bon appetit my friends! There’s more where that came from so, -eat up!
View a Live Lamprey Eel