My hovercraft is full of Petromyzon marinus
September 7, 2015 12:26 PM   Subscribe

One person's harbinger of river health is another's slayer of kings is another's invasive species. Take, for example, sea lampreys. They are making a comeback in rivers around the UK thanks to conservation efforts.

The sea lamprey, Petromyzon marinus, while most notable for its frightening mouth, is one of the oldest living vertebrates.

They were once common in rivers in the UK, but dams, pollution and other human activity adversely affected their habitat and spawning grounds. The 2009 discovery of a sea lamprey in the Thames was considered to be an indicator of improving water quality.

Lamprey pie recently made an appearance in the Game of Thrones TV series. In real life, King Henry I was reported to have died from consuming "a surfeit of lampreys."

His lamprey-hastened death would have far-reaching consequences:
At around sixty-eight years of age, he was still in sufficiently good health to be planning to go hunting on the following day when, contrary to his doctor’s orders it was said, he dined on lampreys and became ill during the night. Within a few short days he was dead, and the peace that had been a hallmark of his regime in Normandy and England was thrown into jeopardy.
While its resurgence in certain UK waterways is good news, in North America the sea lamprey is a rather different kettle of fish.

The Great Lakes are home to several species of lamprey, including threatened non-parasitic species, but sea lampreys are an invasive species that threaten local fish populations.

Video: Silent Invaders

This threat has spawned some remarkable cooperation between the United States and Canada. In 1954, they signed a treaty that established the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC). Part of its mandate is sea lamprey control.

Facts about sea lamprey control in the Great Lakes:
GLFC (pdf)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

US Fish and Wildlife Service
The methods used by Canadian and US authorities to control the sea lamprey population have evolved over the years.

More recent research into sea lamprey control has focused on a "push/pull" method - namely the use of sex and death pheromones to drive them into traps. Curiously, this research may also have applications in lamprey conservation efforts:
Behavioural guidance using these odors has the potential to both improve control of invasive non-native sea lamprey in the Great Lakes as well as improving the efficiency of fish passage devices used in the restoration of threatened lamprey species elsewhere.
If you happened to be in or near Traverse City, Michigan over the Labour (-or) Day weekend, you could have stopped by a sea lamprey exhibit. Visitors could "even have a lamprey attach to them [...] 'Most people will leave it one for a second, and the brave ones will leave it on long enough to get a picture,' said Marc Gaden, a spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. 'You break the seal and it pops right off.'"

More on lampreys: The Biology of Lampreys: Symposium Proceedings (large pdf).
posted by mandolin conspiracy (17 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fascinating creatures, thanks.


wasn't "lamprey detacher" a profession in Hitchhiker's Guide?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:02 PM on September 7, 2015


I visited the Sea Lamprey lab at Hammond Bay in 1979!
posted by acrasis at 1:15 PM on September 7, 2015


Culinarily, lampreys are historically considered a delicacy lost to time. They were hugely popular for large swathes of history--Romans, various periods in English history, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2015


Related - didn't see it until after I'd posted: Traditional lamprey pie for the Queen has to come from Canada for first time in centuries.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:35 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


well she's our Queen too (and beats Old Vicky day after tomorrow)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2015


Phenomenal post with a winning title. 5/5 would click again.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:57 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Culinarily, lampreys are historically considered a delicacy lost to time. They were hugely popular for large swathes of history--Romans, various periods in English history, etc.

Pacific lamprey were an important food source and cultural touchstone for many northwest tribes. There are growing restoration efforts to bring the lamprey populations back across the region, populations are up in some rivers, and there are still significant tribal lamprey fisheries. They definitely lack the charisma of better-looking animals, though, and will probably never attract much public support.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:16 PM on September 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Better-looking animals"?? That thing is a gaddam swimming nightmare made flesh. It's like a living condom with teeth on the inside straight out of a William S Burroughs novel.
posted by nevercalm at 4:23 PM on September 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


What a great post. My last zoology prof. at college was a big fan of lampreys; he used to catch them in the Severn as a kid. Very rich, like fois gras, apparently.
posted by cromagnon at 4:30 PM on September 7, 2015


"Better-looking animals"?? That thing is a gaddam swimming nightmare made flesh. It's like a living condom with teeth on the inside straight out of a William S Burroughs novel.


The pouched lamprey is even more ... suggestive.
posted by murphy slaw at 5:30 PM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Regarding the pouched lamprey:

"When fully mature, males develop a baggy pouch under their eyes, the function of which is unknown."

Scrotum dentata?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:41 PM on September 7, 2015


I shouldn't be but I always am when I read something like that. I have the erroneous gut feeling that we know all about anything interesting but here is something that is superficially very interesting and we just don't know.
posted by Mitheral at 8:26 PM on September 7, 2015


For the record I refuse to click even a single link in this post or thread.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:50 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Very good post.
I am a little miffed the Gloucestershire pie makers had to use imported Lamprey. I understand the fish is protected, but surely a few could be spared for Jubilee purposes? It makes the conservators appear contemptuous of history, rather than taking the excellent opportunity to raise lamprey awareness via pie related discussions.
posted by bystander at 1:59 AM on September 8, 2015




But humans have no need to fear bodily harm from the fish, which are only attracted to cold-blooded organisms

Uh-huh.. And who wants to leave that thing stuck on their body long enough to find out ? They're like HR Giger's inspiration..
posted by k5.user at 6:51 AM on September 8, 2015


Good god, you can have them! Take the Great Lakes' too while you're at it.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:41 AM on September 11, 2015


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