Lamprey Eel: An Invasive Predator/Parasite – Unwelcome Guest in Our Waters

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

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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

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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

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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

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20 Responses to “Lamprey Eel: An Invasive Predator/Parasite – Unwelcome Guest in Our Waters”
  1. stephencardiff Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 11:14 am

    That is one bad ass eel fine set of chompers on it…. Great write up stickman and fantastic pictures too…

  2. barbie67013 Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Great one! Very interesting. These creatures really don’t look so appetizing. I don’t think I could even muster the thought of eating this. lol

  3. Daghost413860 Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Damn! thats one rowdy creature! Reminds me of the movie teeth LMAO
    well written!!

  4. DA Cournean Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    eeewwww. Yucky. You wrote a very good article. I think from now on I will confine my swimming to indoor pools though.

  5. REPuckett Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    You never cease to deliver. Great video.

  6. J.L. Eck Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Net them and make cat food out of them!

  7. moswarthy Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    If you eat this thing, you might end up chewing on another animals’ teeth

  8. Yovita Siswati Says...

    On April 7, 2009 at 12:59 am

    I cannot imagine eating this eel!

  9. R J Evans Says...

    On April 7, 2009 at 3:07 am

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh! It’s like something Sigourney Weaver might set a flame thrower on!

  10. catlord Says...

    On April 7, 2009 at 6:14 am

    I can’t quite get over how much these nasties resemble those G’ouald snake things from Stargate: SG-1


  11. CutestPrincess Says...

    On April 9, 2009 at 9:35 am

    quite interesting read… nice job!

  12. Citizen Says...

    On April 12, 2009 at 5:44 am

    the article is very informative

  13. starrlove9 Says...

    On April 16, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Wow, scary, very informative….You write excellent research articles and your readers are always in for something new to learn.
    Thank You for sharing. Each article is more and more interesting.
    If one needs to gain knowledge. Your the man

  14. denus Says...

    On April 16, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    very interesting man, nice.

  15. writing4angels Says...

    On April 19, 2009 at 8:11 am

    a very troublesome creature. thanks for writing this.

  16. bustahoopa Says...

    On June 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    very interesting article, however, i have been looking for info on freshwater eels of the pacific northwest. i see some in a little stream that is in my backyard that feeds into the columbia river and have been trying to identify them…could these be what i am seeing?…can i fish them?…how do i fish them?. if anybody can shed some light on this subject for me i would greatly appreciate it, tyvm :)

  17. catlord Says...

    On June 15, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    There are underwater ‘traps’ that can be bought (or even made I suppose) that, baited with a dead fish or other attractant meat, would lure these predators to enter the mesh trap and become unable to escape.
    Here on the Humber River (Toronto, river empties into Lake Ontario) I saw those Management folks retrieving some sort of submerged traps from their canoe, and bring them ashore or measurement, marking and release.
    These underwater trap-cages, location marked with a colored stick, I have been watching these ‘markers’ and sort of knew that this is what they were. Some sort of ‘trap.’

    They were pulling these LARGE phreakish eels out of them, clipping their dorsal fins for identification and releasing them back into the river for subsequent re-capture. I still cannot quite get my mind around how this helps to determine the population, but it they do not re-capture the ‘marked’ eels for weeks or months but continue to capture ‘other’ eels, I guess this implies a robust population in that stretch of the river…

    Years ago, I had sort of wanted to catch one of the small ones (about 6-8 inches long, and about the diameter of my index finger) and keep it as an aquarium pet… until I learned how bad these things are. And now, seeing the ADULT form, -about 2-feet long and nearly the diameter of my WRIST, -I think not! :-/

  18. E BEHAN KITTO Says...

    On June 27, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    kiaora you people dont know what you are missing in New Zealand they are a delicasy and the fishing spots are handed down from generation to generation .We call them Piarau and look forward to the fishing season every year which is in the winter months. Piarau gently barbecued above hot embers on a bed made of chicken mesh is worth the effort,They have no bones only cartilage so the whole eel is eaten even the headso if you people dont want them send them to us

  19. catlord Says...

    On June 27, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Although my wife (from Poland) says that eel is a delicacy there, she doesn’t like it. But we (Canada, USA, etc.) should send to the eels to there and abroad. They love ‘em, who are we to deny them their choice. :-D

  20. sher Says...

    On January 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    dam i just caught one

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