European river lamprey

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European river lamprey
European river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis)
Scientific classification
L. fluviatilis
Binomial name
Lampetra fluviatilis
  • Petromyzon fluviatilis Linnaeus 1758
  • Petromyzon prickus Lacepède 1798
  • Petromyzon branchialis Linnaeus 1758
  • Ammocoetus branchialis (Linnaeus 1758)
  • Petromyzon argenteus Bloch 1795 non Kirtland 1838
  • Petromyzon sanguisugus Lacepède 1800
  • Petromyzon jurae MacCulloch 1819
  •  ?Petromyzon macrops Blainville 1825
  • Ammocoetes communis Gistel 1848
  • Petromyzon omalii Beneden 1857
  • Petromyzon fluviatilis m. major Smitt 1895
  • Lampetra opisthodon Gratzianov 1907
  • Lampetra fluviatilis f. typica Berg 1931
  • Lampetra fluviatilis f. praecox Berg 1932
  • Lampetra fluviatilis m. ladogensis Ivanova-Berg 1966

The European river lamprey, also known as the river lamprey or lampern, is a freshwater lamprey. Its scientific name is Lampetra fluviatilis.


Adult river lampreys measure from 25 to 40 cm (10 to 16 in) for the sea-going forms and up to 28 cm (11 in) for the lake forms. The very elongate body is a uniform dark grey above, lightening to yellowish off-white on the sides and pure white below. Like all lampreys, these fish lack paired fins and possess a circular sucking disc instead of jaws. They have a single nostril and seven small breathing holes on either side behind the eye. The teeth are sharp and these fish can be told from the rather smaller brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri) by the fact that the two dorsal fins are more widely separated.[3]


The European river lamprey is found in coastal waters around almost all of Europe from the north-west Mediterranean Sea north to the lakes of Finland, Scotland, Norway (Lake Mjosa), Wales (Cors Caron), and Russia, including rivers in the Alps. Initially, in 1996, its conservation status was rated Near Threatened but since 2008 it has been rated as being of Least Concern following recovery of populations after pollution problems in central and western Europe.[4] An assessment for the Baltic Sea published in 2014, however, classified the river lamprey as Near Threatened in this region.[5]In August 2018, Spain declared it officially extinct in its territory.[6]


Like many lampreys, this species feeds as an ectoparasite and parasite of fish. It clings on to the flanks or gills of the fish with its sucker and rasps at the tissues below.[3]


River lampreys belong to the same genus as brook lamprey and are thought to be very closely related. Current thinking suggests that European brook and river lampreys are a paired species, which means the river lamprey represents the anadromous (seagoing) form of the resident brook lamprey. However, this is an area that is still being actively researched.[7]

Reproductive cycle[edit]

The European river lamprey has a reproduction cycle similar to that of salmon. River lampreys migrate upstream from the sea to spawning grounds in autumn and winter [8][9][10]. Spawning activity is greatest in the springtime (like the brook lamprey) and after spawning, the adults die. The young larvae, known as ammocoetes, spend several years in soft sediment before migrating to the sea as adults. It is thought that these fish spend two to three years in marine habitats before making the return trip to spawn.[3]


As ammocoetes, identification of these animals beyond genus level (Lampetra) is difficult because of their close similarity to brook lamprey. They average 30 cm in length as adults, and some may be considerably smaller (20 cm), but in each case they are distinctly larger than adult brook lamprey (12–14 cm). They are generally 150 g in mass, and their maximum life span is roughly 10 years.[11]


  1. ^ "Petromyzontidae" (PDF). Deeplyfish- fishes of the world. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  2. ^ Froese, R.; Pauly, D. (2017). "Petromyzontidae". FishBase version (02/2017). Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "River lamprey: Lampetra fluviatilis". NatureGate. Retrieved 2013-12-15.
  4. ^ Freyhof, J. (2012). "Lampetra fluviatilis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  5. ^ HELCOM (2013). "HELCOM Red List of Baltic Sea species in danger of becoming extinct" (PDF). Baltic Sea Environmental Proceedings (140): 72.
  6. ^ "El BOE publica el Listado de 32 Especies Extinguidas en el territorio español" [BOE publishes the list of 32 extinct species in Spanish territory]. Público (in Spanish). 13 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  7. ^ Espanhol, R; Almeida, PR; Alves, MJ (May 2007). "Evolutionary history of lamprey paired species Lampetra fluviatilis (L.) and Lampetra planeri (Bloch) as inferred from mitochondrial DNA variation". Molecular Ecology. 16 (9): 1909–24. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2007.03279.x. PMID 17444901.
  8. ^ Silva, S., Macaya-Solis, C., & Lucas, M. C. (2017). Energetically efficient behaviour may be common in biology, but it is not universal: a test of selective tidal stream transport in a poor swimmer. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 584, 161-174
  9. ^ Silva, S., Lowry, M., Macaya-Solis, C., Byatt, B., & Lucas, M. C. (2017). Can navigation locks be used to help migratory fishes with poor swimming performance pass tidal barrages? A test with lampreys. Ecological engineering, 102, 291-302.
  10. ^ Masters, J. E., Jang, M. H., Ha, K., Bird, P. D., Frear, P. A., & Lucas, M. C. (2006). The commercial exploitation of a protected anadromous species, the river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis (L.)), in the tidal River Ouse, north‐east England. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 16(1), 77-92.
  11. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2012). "Lampetra fluviatilis" in FishBase. September 2012 version.

Further reading[edit]

Goodwin, C. E.; Dick, J. T. A.; Rogowski, D. L.; Elwood, R. W. (December 2008). "Lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis and Lampetra planeri) ammocoete habitat associations at regional, catchment and microhabitat scales in Northern Ireland". Ecology of Freshwater Fish. 17 (4): 542–553. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0633.2008.00305.x.