1. says

    It’s worth noting, however, that there are a number of lamprey species that aren’t parasitic. Many scavenge.

    Understandable how jawless fishes ended up parasitizing, however.

    Cool immune system in those lampreys and hagfishes, using many of the same components as our own, but quite differently. For our understanding of evolution we’re lucky that agnathans never died out.

    Glen Davidson

  2. says

    I’m forever confounded by the density of creationists who demand to know where the traditional forms are when they can go out and catch a fish from Before Jaws Evolved.

  3. anonymous says

    First post, let’s see if this works.

    Yay, lampreys on Pharyngula! I love under-appreciated animals. Lamprey nerdiness to follow.

    I’m not aware of scavenging as a major food source for non-parasitic lampreys, although I have heard of it. Normally, though, non-parasitic lampreys don’t feed at all in the adult stage. During their larval stage, they filter-feed, like all lampreys. As adults, they use their body stores to go through sexual maturation, spawn, and die.

    Of course, you probably already knew that, and mostly I’m just happy that someone out there is aware of the existence of a) lampreys in general and b) non-parasitic lampreys.

  4. S says

    For the benefit of zoology illiterates like me, you should at least tell us what the organism is, and of course a small description would be great.

  5. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart OM, purveyor of candy and lies says

    Arrrrghflarghlblargl! I just had to check the front page before bed. Now I’m gonna have nightmares.

  6. AmVik says

    Matt Decker: That thing must be destroyed!

    Mr. Spock: You tried to destroy it once before, Commodore. The result was a wrecked ship and a dead crew.

  7. says


    No, I didn’t know all of that, anonymous, so thanks for the additional info. I’d just heard that some non-parasitic lampreys scavenged, so didn’t write much about it.

    Apparently it’s more the exception, and many nonparasitic lampreys’ digestive systems atrophy.

    Glad you wrote.

    Glen Davidson

  8. cyberCMDR says

    Ah, brings back memories of comparative anatomy classes, when evolution was a given (even at a Catholic university!). Jawless fishes leading to fishes with jaws, and an analysis of how the different structures evolved through modification. It was nice back then, before the fundies tried to push evolution out of the schools. Still in the Sputnik, space race focus on science to keep America competitive. We need China to put someone on the Moon, so we can have another Oh Shit! moment and have to push real science in the classroom.

  9. Sally Strange, OM says

    Hmm. We’ve got invasive lampreys occupying the streams and rivers of Vermont, to the point that the state Dept of Environmental Conservation douses the waterways with poison every May. I feel somewhat conflicted about that.

  10. S says

    Hercules @11:
    Ah, I see. And all these days I have never clicked on those links, because I thought it was just an attribution to them while using their image.

  11. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Shiver and involuntary shudder of disgust*. The stuff of nightmares.

    *Yes, I get that they’re wicked cool too. And they also make me shudder. Primitive brain reaction.

  12. JohnnieCanuck says

    Not just us, salmon in the case of some lampreys and most every other plant, animal and microbe as well.

    No matter what organism we look at, somewhere there is a predator or a parasite waiting its chance. Even if there is a species that has none now, it’s only a matter of (evolutionary) time before something begins to exploit the niche.

  13. Rumtopf says

    Lampreys are fascinating! I lived in Carlisle UK for a short while and would watch the lampreys(river lampreys, I think) in a nearby tributary of the river Eden, moving stones around on the stream bed to make their nests. I heard somewhere that lampreys can’t be kept in glass tanks with a rocky substrate because they usually end up smashing them.

    For a while I was determined to catch a lamprey and actually succeeded, with my bare hands no less(my grandfather taught me how to snatch fish when I was small and he took us out for Sunday nature walks, a useful skill indeed!). They feel strange, hard to hold on to, not unlike an eel. I didn’t handle it for long because AH A LAMPREY AND IT’S FLAILING AROUND AAH so I put it in a tub and had a good look before releasing it. The local kids were amazed and asked a ton of questions, though one or two hadn’t realised what lurked in their stream and didn’t want to go back in the water, so I felt a wee bit rotten.

  14. Birger Johansson says

    Benjamin: “Ahhh lamprey. Condoms with teeth”
    Ralph König once made a graphic novel titled “The Killer Condome”, I don’t know if it is available outside Germany.

    The teeth reminds me of the “Flukeman” episode of The X-File. The most disgusting episode of the whole series, worse than “Home”.

    Either lampreys or hagfish use slime as a defensive weapon, I don’t recall which of them.

  15. pickle surprise says

    @ Birger Johannson

    Hagfish are the ones which produce slime to ward off predators and it can turn a whole bucket of water into slime in seconds!

    Modern agnathans are really fascinating. They are primitive in so many ways yet highly specialized at what they do. I often wonder if it was their occupation of unusual niches that enabled them to survive while other jawless fishes died out?

  16. Jeff A says

    @ #25 Birger–Killer Condoms is available outside Germany, and has even been made into a riotously awful movie.

    Also, had a prof for a comparative vertebrate anatomy class who offered an A for the class, no attendance or exams or anything necessary, to any student who could hold a hagfish for sixty seconds. As far as I know, not one student has ever managed that “easy A” and he’s had several students try it.

  17. KG says

    Henry I of England, the third of our Norman tyrants, is reputed to have died of a surfeit* of lampreys – they were considered a delicacy.

    According to that ever-relaible source on English history, 1066 and All That, medieval kings generally died of a surfeit of something or other, unless killed in battle or deposed and murdered.

  18. TrineBM says

    Hagfish are the ones which produce slime to ward off predators and it can turn a whole bucket of water into slime in seconds!

    That “pickle surprise” was the author of the above quote a few comments upthread made my (slimefilled) head asplode with mirth.
    (pickle surprise indeed!!!)

  19. ChasCPeterson says

    So what’s the difference between a lamprey and a hagfish? How closely related are they?

    The fascinating answer is: not closely related at all! In fact lampreys are (probably) more closely related to humans than they are to hagfish, by the criterion of recency-of-common-ancestor. They look superficially similar because both retain ‘primitive’ ancestral traits: their lineages both stretch back to before jaws, paired fins, or (probably) bone were invented,but have been separate for all that time. Hagfish do not have vertebrae or blood cells, lampreys do, and there are a number of other morphological and corroborating genetic differences that show that hagfish are the more ancient lineage (pre-vertebrate!), but not by much.

  20. says

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