Believe It or Not!
The Science Of Sea Lampreys

The Science Of Sea Lampreys

Ripley’s & Science North

Ripley’s has teamed up with Science North to bring you The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a 6,000 sq ft highly interactive traveling exhibit. Each week the staff scientists of Science North are going to be blogging the scientific side of Ripley’s!

The Science Of Sea Lampreys

“Look, Mom, it’s an eel!” is something I hear every day when people see the unbelievably creepy creatures in my lab.  Lamprey eels, as they’re commonly known, have lived on earth for millions of years, but they are in fact not eels at all.  These long snake-like prehistoric creatures are jawless fish, one of two types alive on Earth today, and are actually called sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus).

Eel or vampire…

Sea lampreys have a suction cup-like mouth with several rows of sharp, pointy teeth and a hard rasping tongue. They use this mouth to stick to the side of a fish, and then their tongue to scrape a hole through its skin and scales. Soon, they’re able to begin sucking the fish’s blood and bodily fluids.  If you don’t think that’s creepy enough, their saliva contains an anticoagulant so the fish just keeps bleeding until the lamprey has had its fill. Sea lampreys also lack scales, slime glands and paired fins, so their appearance is streamline, smooth and deadly when it comes to their hunting abilities.  A gland at the top of the head, called a pineal gland, detects changes in light, and helps the lamprey find its next victim.

Invasive species

Sea lampreys roam the oceans, feeding on tuna, swordfish, and sometimes even sharks, but have also found their way into the Great Lakes.  Since the construction of the Welland Canal that bypassed Niagara Falls in 1829, they have invaded all five freshwater lakes. Sea lampreys are one of the few animals with the unique ability to survive in both marine and freshwater.

More weird true facts about sea lamprey

They have a cartilaginous skeleton and have retained a feature that is unique to vertebrates called a notocord.  Most vertebrates lose this structure after they metamorphose from the larval stage, but sea lampreys retain this feature, thus making them truly a prehistoric animal.  Science North is home to nine of these unbelievable predators for the summer, so if you’re planning on coming to Sudbury, Ontario, come check them out and marvel at their creepiness.

Written by Meghan Mitchell, Science Communicator in the Lakes and Rivers Lab, Science North.

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