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Pacific lamprey

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Pacific lamprey
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Infraphylum: Agnatha
Class: Hyperoartia
Order: Petromyzontiformes
Family: Petromyzontidae
Genus: Entosphenus
E. tridentatus
Binomial name
Entosphenus tridentatus
(Richardson, 1836)
  • Petromyzon tridentatus Richardson 1836
  • Entosphenus tridentatus tridentatus (Richardson 1836)
  • Lampetra tridentata (Richardson 1836)
  • Petromyzon ciliatus Ayres 1855
  • Petromyzon lividus Girard 1858
  • Petromyzon astori Girard 1858
  • Entosphenus epihexodon Gill 1862
  • Petromyzon epihexodon (Gill 1862)
Entosphenus tridentatus at Bonneville Dam in Washington

The Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) is an anadromous parasitic lamprey from the Pacific Coast of North America and Asia in an area called the Pacific Rim.[3] It is a member of the Petromyzontidae family. The Pacific lamprey is also known as the three-tooth lamprey and tridentate lamprey.


Pacific lamprey digging a nest (red)
Pacific lampreys passing through the Bonneville Dam

Pacific lampreys grow to about 80 cm (31 in) as adults. They are anadromous and semelparous. They have slender, elongated bodies with two dorsal fins arising far back on the body. The anal fins are rudimentary and the lower lobe of the caudal fin is larger than the upper lobe and both lobes are continuous with the dorsal fin and the anal fin. Adults living in the sea are a bluish-black or greenish colour above and pale below, but those in fresh water are brown. This species is distinguished by having three (or occasionally two) sharp teeth on the supraoral bar above the mouth and three sharp points on each lateral plate. The Pacific lamprey are often found at sea or often far offshore. At sea, depth: near surface to 1,508 m (4,946 ft) [4]


Although the adult and juvenile stages are more noticeable, lampreys spend the majority of their lives as larvae (ammocoetes). Ammocoetes live in fresh water for many years (usually 3–7 years, but at least one species has been recorded for +17 years). Ammocoetes are filter feeders that draw overlying water into burrows they dig into soft bottom substrates. After the larval period, the ammocoetes undergo metamorphosis and take on the juvenile/adult body morphology. Juveniles/adults have a jawless, sucker-like mouth that allows them to become parasitic on other fish and sperm whales, attaching themselves with their suckers and feeding on blood and body fluids. The adults live at least one to two years in the ocean and then return to fresh water to spawn. Whether Pacific lampreys return to their natal streams or seek spawning areas based on other cues is not known. They typically spawn in similar habitat to Pacific salmon and trout. Lampreys construct a nest (redd) in small gravel and females can lay over 100,000 eggs, which are fertilized externally by the male. After spawning, the adults usually die within four days. Also, like salmon, the Pacific lamprey does not feed while migrating to spawn.[4]

Cultural use and food[edit]

Pacific lampreys are an important ceremonial food for Native American tribes in the Columbia River basin and the Yurok people and Karuk of the Klamath River Wiyot people of the Eel River in northern California.[5] Pacific lamprey numbers in the Columbia River have greatly declined with the construction of the Columbia River hydropower system. Almost no harvest opportunity for Native Americans remains in the Columbia River and its tributaries except for a small annual harvest at Willamette Falls on the Willamette River (tributary to the Columbia River). The Yurok and Wiyot snag lampreys in the surf at the mouth of the Klamath River, often at night, using hand-carved wooden "hooks". It is dangerous work.[5] Because lampreys are fatty and have a very high caloric count, tribes like the Wiyot and Yurok have traditionally fed them to babies and young children. In terms of tribal cuisine, the lamprey is often smoked over open fires, a method that enhances the flavor and aids in preservation, allowing them to be stored and consumed over extended periods. The smoked lamprey is a staple, featured in various communal feasts. In some tribal communities, lamprey is also prepared in stews, where its meat is combined with herbs and vegetables.[6] The high caloric count also make lampreys an important piece of the river ecosystem, as other animals also rely on them.[7] The documentary film, The Lost Fish, chronicles how current tribal communities are actively studying, breeding, and working to restore lamprey and lamprey habitats to the waterways of the Pacific Northwest.[8] Pacific lampreys also hold deep cultural and spiritual importantce for many indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest. They are seen as essential components of the ecosystem, serving both as predators and as prey. The tribes have traditional tales that discuss the lamprey's ecological and cultural significance. Their presence or absence in specific waterways would sometimes be interpreted as omens.[9]


Ecological issues[edit]

Pacific lamprey numbers have greatly decreased due to human infrastructure. Damming rivers, channelization, and declines in water quality have impacted pacific lamprey habitat and their ability to live.[10] However, restoration of rivers and streams in Southern California has re-established the fish in portions of their historic southern range. The Pacific lamprey recolonized the Santa Margarita River in San Diego County in August 2019 for the first time since 1940, the furthest south the species has currently recolonized, 260 miles (420 km) south of the previous recolonization of San Luis Obispo Creek in San Luis Obispo in 2017.[11] The Santa Margarita River recolonization has been attributed to a rebuilt weir and new fishway at Camp Pendleton which allowed the lamprey to find passage into the river.[12]

There have also been concerns over the conditions in which Pacific Lamprey larva will have to endure in the coming century. The main concern is climate change because we could see temperatures in which the larva live in increase to 27-31 °C. The preferred temperature for lamprey hatching is about 18°C, anything more than that could potentially be deadly.[13] Studies have shown that temperatures that exceed 30.7 °C is a deadly for the larva. A temperature of up to 27.7 °C however is manageable for the larva.[14] Depending on the temperature increase, the larva may also exhibit a change in behavior which could lead to its death.[14] The primary behavior change exhibited is in relation to their burrowing habits. Larva exposed to the higher temperatures were observed to experience impaired burrowing. Pacific Lamprey larva take a typical amount of time to burrow their hole, however at a higher temperature, typically at or above 27°C they took significantly longer to burrow.[14] Inactive burrowing also increased in larva who were located in waters at or 27°C alongside an increase in stopping during their burrowing process.[14]

The Pacific lamprey is not the same fish as the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) that has invaded the Great Lakes via the Erie Canal.

The Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative (PLCI) emerged as a collaborative effort, comprising Native American tribes, federal, state and local agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations. The collective's aim is to preserve Pacific lampreys as well as their habitats. PLCI is working to achieve long-term persistence of Pacific Lamprey, and support the ongoing use for native tribes. [15] PLCI was initiated in 2008 by the USFWS.[16] A notable collaboration has emerged in the Columbia River basin where several organizations and native tribes have come together under the PLCI to implement various conservation methods.[17]


  1. ^ Van Der Laan, Richard; Eschmeyer, William N.; Fricke, Ronald (11 November 2014). "Family-group names of Recent fishes". Zootaxa. 3882 (1): 1–230. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3882.1.1. PMID 25543675.
  2. ^ Froese, R.; Pauly, D. (2017). "Petromyzontidae". FishBase version (02/2017). Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Natural history". www.biologicaldiversity.org. Retrieved 2023-10-17.
  4. ^ a b Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Entosphenus tridentatus" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
  5. ^ a b Patricia Leigh Brown (April 15, 2015). "Hooking a Slippery Prize Where the Klamath River Meets the Pacific". The New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  6. ^ "Lamprey from the Nez Perce Perspective". Oregon Wild. 2023-10-28. Retrieved 2023-10-25.
  7. ^ Wiyot Tribe Natural Resources Department and Stillwater Sciences. 2016. Wiyot Tribe Pacific Lamprey adaptive management plan framework. Prepared by Wiyot Tribe Natural Resources Department, Table Bluff Reservation, Loleta, California and Stillwater Sciences, Arcata, California for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.
  8. ^ Freshwaters Illustrated (2013). "The Lost Fish". Freshwaters Illustrated.
  9. ^ Wildlife, By Jon Nelson, Curator of (2017-05-09). "The Historical Significance of the Lamprey". High Desert Museum. Retrieved 2023-10-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Close, David A.; Fitzpatrick, Martin S.; Li, Hiram W. (2002). "The Ecological and Cultural Importance of a Species at Risk of Extinction, Pacific Lamprey". Fisheries. 27 (7): 19–25. Bibcode:2002Fish...27g..19C. doi:10.1577/1548-8446(2002)027<0019:TEACIO>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 1548-8446. S2CID 85068439.
  11. ^ Stewart B. Reid; Damon H. Goodman (March 3, 2020). "Natural Recolonization by Pacific Lampreys in a Southern California Coastal Drainage: Implications for Their Biology and Conservation". North American Journal of Fisheries Management. 40 (2): 335–341. Bibcode:2020NAJFM..40..335R. doi:10.1002/nafm.10412. S2CID 216409874. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  12. ^ John Heil (January 7, 2022). "Pacific lamprey found in Santa Margarita River, for the first time in decades". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  13. ^ Wang, Christina J.; Michael Hudson, J.; Lassalle, Géraldine; Whitesel, Timothy A. (2021-12-01). "Impacts of a changing climate on native lamprey species: From physiology to ecosystem services". Journal of Great Lakes Research. 47: S186–S200. Bibcode:2021JGLR...47S.186W. doi:10.1016/j.jglr.2021.06.013. ISSN 0380-1330.
  14. ^ a b c d Whitesel, Timothy A.; Uh, Christina T. (2023-05-01). "Upper temperature limit of larval Pacific lamprey Entosphenus tridentatus: implications for conservation in a warming climate". Environmental Biology of Fishes. 106 (5): 837–852. Bibcode:2023EnvBF.106..837W. doi:10.1007/s10641-022-01372-z. ISSN 1573-5133.
  15. ^ "Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative | Collaborative conservation of Pacific Lamprey". Retrieved 2023-10-25.
  16. ^ "Conservation Agreement | Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative". Retrieved 2023-10-25.
  17. ^ "Region Comes Together to Restore Pacific Lamprey in the Columbia River Basin". www.nwcouncil.org. Retrieved 2023-10-25.