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5 Things I Learned about the Sea Lamprey

It’s October and we thought we’d learn a little about a blood-sucking invasive species you can find in the Great Lakes . . . sea lampreys! Here are 5 facts about this distinctive-looking animal. #cleaquarium #natureiscurious

Some people say it looks like an eel, others think it looks like the stuff of nightmares. In truth, this cartilaginous, jawless fish with smooth, scaleless skin is a parasite, meaning that it gets its nourishment from another host organism.

As you can clearly see, a sea lamprey has a suction cup mouth ringed with sharp teeth. It will latch on to a fish and use its rough, file-like tongue to rasp away at scales and skin in order to feed on the host’s blood and bodily fluids.  Not many—maybe 1 in 7—of the fish that a sea lamprey attaches to and feeds on will survive the ordeal, and it’s estimated that a single lamprey will kill more than 40 or more pounds of fish in its lifetime.

Sea lampreys are native to the northern and western Atlantic Ocean, but thanks to manmade locks and shipping canals, they found their way into the Great Lakes in the 1800s where, because they prey on whitefish, lake trout and salmon, they’ve disrupted the freshwater ecosystem.

Not all lampreys are invasive to the Great Lakes. There are actually a number of native lampreys including the silver, the American brook and the Northern brook, but the sea lamprey is a significantly bigger predator.  

A sea lamprey has a very well-developed sense of smell and uses odors to navigate and communicate. That’s why researchers have tried using both pheromones and the scent of decaying sea lampreys to help with trapping efforts.

So, while you (understandably) might have no desire to see a sea lamprey up-close, you can learn about Ohio’s native and invasive species on your next visit to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

Where to Find @CLEAquarium: Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery

Author: Samantha F.

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