The Sea Lamprey

Class: Cyclostomata
  • Jessica H. Lewis


The earliest vertebrate class, Cyclostomata, consists of two orders: Petromyzontia and Myxinoidia. Lampreys belong to the first and slime eels and hagfish to the second. These may be called the most primitive fish—if the term “fish” is used to denote any poikilothermic aquatic craniate vertebrate. Almost all are parasitic. Lampreys are jawless and have mouths that consist of a large suctorial funnel with many homey teeth capable of rasping through the skin and scales of their hosts. Their bodies are long snakelike cylinders with smooth, slimy skin and both median and tail fins. They have seven pairs of gill slits well posterior to the mouth. The skeleton is completely cartilaginous. Adult lampreys seek clean fresh water in which to reproduce. The female clears a shallow nest from the stream bottom and attaches herself upstream. The male then attaches to the female. Fertilization is external, and the numerous small eggs sink to the bottom and are covered with silt and sand. The parents die after spawning. The eggs hatch a few weeks later, and the young pass through a hermaphroditic larval stage that may last for years. Characteristically, lampreys are euryhaline and thus able to migrate between salt water and fresh water. Recently, many have become landlocked, particularly in Lake Erie, and have destroyed many prized eatable lake fish by their parasitic attacks.


Bovine Thrombin Gill Slit Monochloroacetic Acid River Lamprey Adult Lamprey 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica H. Lewis
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Central Blood BankPittsburghUSA

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