LAMPREY1.jpg (10212 bytes)

Sea Lamprey

Family: Petromyzontidae

Species: Petromyzon marinus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Range: Inhabits northern Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America (from Labrador to Florida in the western Atlantic.  It is also native to Lake Ontario.

Habitat / Food: Adult lampreys are parasitic on a large variety of fishes and marine mammals and seek the largest individuals of a species.  They attach using a suctorial mouth which has pointed teeth arranged in concentric circles (as seen in the photo).  Once attached, the lamprey opens wounds on the prey's skin using a rasping tongue and sharp teeth and feeds on blood and other bodily tissue.  Smaller sea lampreys are bottom dwellers along coasts and on the continental shelf.

LAMPREY2.jpg (8234 bytes)
Ventral view of lamprey's sucking

Characters useful in identification:  A suctorial mouth with teeth arranged in concentric circles; dorsal fin with notch; pectoral and pelvic fins absent; eye of moderate size; gill openings represented by 7 small lateral clefts.

Color:  brown or black mottling present dorsally; whitish or gray ventrally.

Maximum size:  84 cm. (2.8 ft.)

Reproduction:  This anadromous species ascends freshwaters in Maryland and Virginia from March to June to locate suitable spawning grounds, where the female deposits eggs in nests created by male lampreys.  Adults die soon after this spawning event.  

Other interesting tidbits:


Murdy, E.O., R.S. Birdsong, and J.A. Musick. 1997. Fishes of Chesapeake Bay.Smithsonian Institution Press, 324 pp.

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Date last modified: 07/13/99