name = Lamprey

image_width = 250px
image_caption = Sea lamprey from Sweden
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Cephalaspidomorphi
unranked_ordo = Hyperoartia
ordo = Petromyzontiformes
familia = Petromyzontidae
subdivision_ranks = Subfamilies'
subdivision =

A lamprey (sometimes also called lamprey eel) is a jawless fish with a toothed, funnel-like sucking mouth. While lampreys are well known for those species which bore into the flesh of other fish to suck their blood, these species make up the minority. In zoology, lampreys are often not considered to be true fish because of their vastly different morphology and physiology.

Physical description

Lampreys live mostly in coastal and fresh waters, although at least one species, "Geotria australis", probably travels significant distances in the open ocean, as evidenced by the lack of reproductive isolation between Australian and New Zealand populations, and the capture of a specimen in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. They are found in most temperate regions except Africa. Their larvae have a low tolerance for high water temperatures, which is probably why they are not found in the tropics.

Outwardly resembling eels, in that they have no scales, an adult lamprey can range anywhere from 13 to 100 centimetres (5 to 40 inches) long. Lampreys have no paired fins, large eyes, one nostril on the top of the head, and seven gills on each side. The unique morphological characteristics of lampreys, such as their cartilaginous skeleton, mean that they are the sister taxon (see cladistics) of all living jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes) and are not classified within the Vertebrata itself.Fact|date=July 2007 This is disputed by some, who place lampreys within Vertebrata. [cite book
last = Liem
first = Karel F.
coauthors = William E. Bemis, Warren F. Walker, Jr., Lance Grande
title = Functional Anatomy of the Vertebrates
publisher = Thomson: Brooks/Cole
date = 2001
location = The United States of America
pages = 50
isbn = 0-03-022369-5
] Hagfish, which superficially resemble lampreys, are the sister taxon of the lampreys and gnathostomes (a clade termed the Craniata).Fact|date=April 2007

Studies reported in "Nature" suggest that lampreys have a unique type of immune system with parts that are unrelated to the antibodies found in mammals. They also have a very high tolerance to iron overload, and have biochemical defenses to detoxify this metal.

Life cycle

Lampreys begin life as burrowing freshwater larvae (ammocoetes). At this stage, they are toothless, have rudimentary eyes, and feed on microorganisms. This larval stage can last five to seven years and so was originally thought to be an independent organism. They transform into adults in a metamorphosis which is at least as radical as that seen in amphibians. It involves a radical rearrangement of internal organs, development of eyes and transformation from a mud-dwelling filter feeder into an efficient swimming parasite/predator that typically moves to the sea. The adult feeds by attaching its mouth to a fish, secreting an anticoagulant to the host, and feeding on the blood and tissues of the host. In most species this phase lasts about 18 months.

Some lampreys are landlocked and remain in fresh water, and some of these stop feeding when they leave the larval stage. The landlocked species are usually rather small. To reproduce, lampreys return to fresh water, build a nest, spawn (that is, females lay eggs, males excrete semen), then invariably die. In "Geotria australis", the time from ceasing to feed at sea to spawning can be up to 18 months.


Lamprey fossils are rare because cartilage does not fossilize as readily as bone. The oldest known fossil lampreys were from Early Carboniferous limestones, [From the Mississippian Mazon Creek lagerstätte and the Bear Gulch Limestone sequence.] laid down in marine sediments in North America: "Mayomyzon pieckoensis" and "Hardistiella montanensis".

In the 22 June 2006 issue of "Nature", Mee-mann Chang and colleagues reported on a fossil lamprey from the same Early Cretaceous lagerstätten that have yielded feathered dinosaurs, in the Yixian Formation of Inner Mongolia. The new species, morphologically similar to Carboniferous and modern forms, was given the name "Mesomyzon mengae" ("Middle lamprey"). The exceedingly well-preserved fossil showed a well-developed sucking oral disk, a relatively long branchial apparatus showing branchial basket, seven gill pouches, gill arches and even the impressions of gill filaments, and about 80 myomeres of its musculature.

Months later, in the 27 October issue of "Nature", an even older fossil lamprey, dated 360 million years ago, was reported from Witteberg Group rocks near Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. This species, dubbed "Priscomyzon riniensis" still strongly resembled modern lampreys despite its Devonian age. [cite web |url= |title=Discovery of the Oldest Fossil Lamprey in the World |date=2006-10-26 |accessdate=2008-06-08 |publisher=University of the Witwatersrand]


The taxonomy presented here is that given by Fisher, 1994. This work classifies lampreys as the sole living members of the class Cephalaspidomorphi. [Cephalaspidomorpha is sometimes given as a subclass of the Cephalaspidomorphi.] The lampreys entail the single order Petromyzontiformes and family Petromyzontidae. [Petromyzoniformes and Petromyzonidae are sometimes used as alternative spellings for Petromyzontiformes and Petromyzontidae respectively.]

Within this family, there are 40 recorded species in nine genera and three subfamilies:

* Subfamily Geotriinae
** Genus "Geotria"
*** Pouched lamprey, "Geotria australis" (Gray,1851)
* Subfamily Mordaciinae
** Genus "Mordacia"
*** "Mordacia lapicida" (Gray, 1851)
*** "Mordacia mordax" (Richardson, 1846)
*** "Mordacia praecox" (Potter, 1968)
* Subfamily Petromyzontinae
** Genus "Caspiomyzon"
*** "Caspiomyzon wagneri" (Kessler, 1870)
** Genus "Eudontomyzon"
*** "Eudontomyzon danfordi" (Regan, 1911)
*** "Eudontomyzon hellenicus" (Vladykov, Renaud, Kott and Economidis, 1982)
*** "Eudontomyzon mariae" (Berg, 1931)
*** "Eudontomyzon morii" (Berg, 1931)
*** "Eudontomyzon stankokaramani" (Karaman, 1974)
*** "Eudontomyzon vladykovi" (Oliva and Zanandrea, 1959)
** Genus "Ichthyomyzon"
*** "Ichthyomyzon bdellium" (Jordan, 1885) - Ohio lamprey
*** "Ichthyomyzon castaneus" Girard, 1858 - chestnut lamprey
*** "Ichthyomyzon fossor" (Reighard and Cummins, 1916) - northern brook lamprey
*** "Ichthyomyzon gagei" (Hubbs and Trautman, 1937) - southern brook lamprey
*** "Ichthyomyzon greeleyi" (Hubbs and Trautman, 1937) - mountain brook lamprey
*** "Ichthyomyzon unicuspis" (Hubbs and Trautman, 1937) - silver lamprey
** Genus "Lampetra"
*** "Lampetra aepyptera" (Abbott, 1860) - least brook lamprey
*** "Lampetra alaskensis" (Vladykov and Kott, 1978)
*** "Lampetra appendix" (DeKay, 1842) - American brook lamprey
*** "Lampetra ayresii" (Günther, 1870)
*** "Lampetra fluviatilis" (Linnaeus, 1758)
*** "Lampetra hubbsi" (Vladykov and Kott, 1976) - Kern brook lamprey
*** "Lampetra lamottei" (Lesueur, 1827)
*** "Lampetra lanceolata" (Kux and Steiner, 1972)
*** "Lampetra lethophaga" (Hubbs, 1971) - Pit-Klamath brook lamprey
*** "Lampetra macrostoma" (Beamish, 1982) - Vancouver lamprey
*** "Lampetra minima" (Bond and Kan, 1973) - Miller Lake lamprey
*** "Lampetra planeri" (Bloch, 1784)
*** "Lampetra richardsoni" (Vladykov and Follett, 1965) - western brook lamprey
*** "Lampetra similis" (Vladykov and Kott, 1979) - Klamath lamprey
*** "Lampetra tridentata" (Richardson, 1836) - Pacific lamprey
** Genus "Lethenteron"
*** "Lethenteron camtschaticum" (Tilesius, 1811)
*** "Lethenteron japonicum" (Martens, 1868)
*** "Lethenteron kessleri" (Anikin, 1905)
*** "Lethenteron matsubarai" (Vladykov and Kott, 1978)
*** "Lethenteron reissneri" (Dybowski, 1869)
*** "Lethenteron zanandreai" (Vladykov, 1955)
** Genus "Petromyzon"
*** "Petromyzon marinus" (Linnaeus, 1758) - sea lamprey
** Genus "Tetrapleurodon"
*** "Tetrapleurodon geminis" (Alvarez, 1964)
*** "Tetrapleurodon spadiceus" (Bean, 1887)

Some taxonomists place lampreys and hagfish in the phylum Chordata under the super-class Agnathostomata (without jaws). The other super-class of the phylum is Gnathostomata (jaw-having) and includes the classes Chondrichthyes, Osteichthyes, Amphibia, Reptila, Aves, and Mammalia.

Relation to humans


Lampreys have long been used as food for humans. During the Middle Ages, they were widely eaten by the upper classes throughout Europe, especially during fasting periods, since their taste is much meatier than that of most true fish. King Henry I of England is said to have died from eating "a surfeit of lampreys". [cite web |url=,9171,861450,00.html |title=A Surfeit of Lampreys |publisher=Time |date=1955-05-09 |accessdate=2008-06-07] On 4th March 1953, the Queen of the United Kingdom's coronation pie was made by the Royal Air Force using lampreys.Fact|date=June 2008

Especially in southwestern Europe (Portugal, Spain, and France), larger lampreys are still a highly prized delicacy. Overfishing has reduced their number in those parts. Lampreys are also consumed in Sweden, Finland, the Baltic countries, and South Korea.

In Britain, lampreys are commonly used as bait, normally as dead bait. Pike, perch and chub all can be caught on lampreys. Lampreys can be bought frozen from most bait and tackle shops.

Lampreys are used as a model organism in biomedical research where their large reticulospinal axons are used to investigate synaptic transmission [Giant reticulospinal synapse in lamprey: molecular links between active and periactive zones., Brodin L. et al., Cell Tissue Res. 2006] . The axons of lamprey are particularly large and allow for microinjection of substances for experimental manipulation.

As pests

Sea lampreys have become a major plague in the North American Great Lakes after artificial canals allowed their entry during the early 20th century. They are considered an invasive species, have no natural enemies in the lakes and prey on many species of commercial value, such as lake trout. Since the majority of North American consumers, unlike Europeans, refuse to accept lampreys as food, the Great Lakes fishery has been adversely affected by their invasion. Lampreys are now found mostly in the streams that feed the lakes, with special barriers to prevent the upstream movement of adults, or by the application of toxicants called lampricides, which are harmless to most other aquatic species. However those programs are complicated and expensive, and do not eradicate the lampreys from the lakes but merely keep them in check. New programs are being developed including the use of chemically sterilized male lamprey in a method akin to the sterile insect technique. Research is currently under way on the use of pheromones and how they may be used to disrupt the life cycle (Sorensen, "et al.", 2005). Control of sea lampreys in the Great Lakes is conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The work is coordinated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Lake Champlain, bordered by New York State, Vermont, and Quebec, and New York's Finger Lakes are also home to populations of sea lampreys whose high populations have warranted control. Lake Champlain's lamprey control program is managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. New York's Finger Lakes sea lamprey control program is managed solely by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In literature

Vedius Pollio was punished by Augustus for attempting to feed a clumsy slave to the lampreys in his fishpond. 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... – Seneca," On Anger", III, 40 []

Christopher Warner, a character in Philip Larkin's early novel "Jill" is said to have attended a fictional minor public school called Lamprey College.

Lamprey pies are an appreciated dish often referred in George R.R. Martin's popular fantasy series "A Song of Ice and Fire"

Stephen King's novel Dreamcatcher has alien cratures that look and move like Lampreys, which are nicknamed in the novel, "shitweasles"




External links

* [ ITIS report on the lampreys]
* [ "Lamprey conservation"]
* [ A Tree of Life diagram showing the relation of Lampreys to other organisms]
* [ Lampreys as food, including recipes]
* [ Lamprey skeletons]
* [ "Scientists from South Africa discover world's oldest fish fossil"] News report on 27 October 2006 "Nature" article.
* [,,1803115,00.html Alok Jha, Perfect lampreys show little change in 125 m years "The Guardian" (22 June 2006)]
* [ Scientists find lamprey a 'living fossil']

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lamprey — Lam prey (l[a^]m pr[y^]), n.; pl. {Lampreys} (l[a^]m pr[i^]z). [OE. lampreie, F. lamproie, LL. lampreda, lampetra, from L. lambere to lick + petra rock, stone. The lampreys are so called because they attach themselves with their circular mouths… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • lamprey — c.1300 (c.1200 as a surname?), from O.Fr. lamproie, from M.L. lampreda, from L.L. lampetra lamprey, of uncertain origin, usually explained as lit. lick rock, from L. lambere to lick (see LAP (Cf. lap) (v.1)) + petra rock. The animals attach… …   Etymology dictionary

  • lamprey — ► NOUN (pl. lampreys) ▪ an eel like jawless fish that has a sucker mouth with horny teeth and a rasping tongue. ORIGIN Latin lampreda, probably from lambere to lick + petra stone (because the lamprey attaches itself to stones by its mouth) …   English terms dictionary

  • lamprey — the eel like fish, has the plural form lampreys …   Modern English usage

  • lamprey — [lam′prē] n. pl. lampreys [ME lampreie < OFr < ML lampreda] any of an order (Petromyzoniformes) of jawless fishes with a funnel shaped, sucking mouth surrounded by rasping teeth with which it bores into the flesh of other fishes to suck… …   English World dictionary

  • lamprey — /lam pree/, n., pl. lampreys. any eellike marine or freshwater fish of the order Petromyzoniformes, having a circular, suctorial mouth with horny teeth for boring into the flesh of other fishes to feed on their blood. Also called lamprey eel,… …   Universalium

  • Lamprey — Recorded as Lampray and Lamprey, this is given as being an English and Devonian surname. It is apparently locational and nothing whatsoever to do with a fish called the Lamprey. This was famous (and popular) for causing the death of King John of… …   Surnames reference

  • lamprey — [12] The words lamprey and limpet [OE] come from the same source: medieval Latin lamprēda. This was an alteration of an earlier, 5th century lampetra, which has been plausibly explained as literally ‘stone licker’ (from Latin lambēre ‘lick’,… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • lamprey — [12] The words lamprey and limpet [OE] come from the same source: medieval Latin lamprēda. This was an alteration of an earlier, 5th century lampetra, which has been plausibly explained as literally ‘stone licker’ (from Latin lambēre ‘lick’,… …   Word origins

  • lamprey — noun (plural lampreys) Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo French lampreie, from Medieval Latin lampreda Date: 14th century any of a family (Petromyzontidae) of eel shaped freshwater or anadromous jawless fishes that include those cyclostomes… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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