Lamprey Bite: Here's What To Do If You Get Bitten By One

Christian Mba
Feb 29, 2024 By Christian Mba
Originally Published on Dec 21, 2021
European brook lamprey.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.8 Min

Lampreys, also known as vampire fish, became famous after their increase in population affected the Great Lakes Fishery.

There are 40 lamprey species in the world. These eel-like creatures use their mouth, tongue, and teeth to latch onto their prey.

They suck blood, and many a time, even kill their host. They prey on other fish species, and some of them even eat organic matter. Sea lampreys, the most common lamprey, produce a type of anticoagulant that prevents blood clots in their host while they are feeding. The highest lamprey population is found in the great lakes of North America. Based on the reports from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission the estimated population of Lake Superior is 80,000, in Lake Michigan, it is 27,000, in Lake Ontario, it is 24,000, and in Lake Erie, it is 10,000. They thrive in the Great Lakes due to the availability of suitable spawning habitats. A female lamprey can produce 100,000 eggs. Sea lampreys can latch onto humans, especially while swimming. Though they are not strong enough to kill a human, the bite can be quite painful. The bite can also cause other life-threatening infections. The department of fisheries and wildlife in the Great Lakes and other parts of the world have taken several measures to control the population of sea lampreys, as their existence threatens other wildlife in the ecosystem. Continue reading to learn more about the lamprey bite wound and the lamprey bite mark.

If you enjoyed reading this article, then you can also check out our other related articles on king cobra bites and mouse bite here at Kidadl.

What is a Lamprey?

The lamprey is a jawless fish that belongs to the Hyperoartia class and Petromyzontiformes order. Lampreys are often confused with eels, as they share many similarities.

Lampreys have thin bodies with smooth skin. The lamprey has a sucking disc instead of a mouth and jaws. The oral disc is filled with sharp teeth. Lampreys are parasitic fish that have a file-like tongue. These blood-sucking creatures can be as small as 5 in (13 cm). Adults can grow up to 39.5 in (100 cm). Not all lampreys are carnivores. There are several species of lamprey, but they are broadly classified as carnivorous lampreys and nonparasitic lampreys. Carnivorous lampreys, like the sea lampreys that survive by feeding on other fish like the lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, lake sturgeon, coho salmon, and Chinook found in the Great Lakes, and Nonparasitic lampreys that survive by feeding on organic matter found in a river system or lake. Lampreys do not have scales. Though lampreys are fish, they are still very different from fish like lake trout. The skeletal structure of lampreys is similar to that of sharks, as it is cartilage-based. The lamprey has tiny pores on the hind side of its mouth and eyes. These pores, also known as gills, help them breathe.

Did you know? In the Atlantic Ocean, the sea lamprey does not kill its host fish. This is due to the co-evolution link between sea lampreys and other fish. But in the Great Lakes, the sea lamprey exhibits its true parasitic and predatory nature, almost hunting down all the fishes they find. Scientists were able to conclude that this behavior was exhibited due to the absence of co-evolutionary links.

What does a Lamprey bite look like?

Wounds created by lampreys, apart from creating excruciating pain, also have a nasty appearance. On an animal planet show called 'River Monsters', a swimmer narrated his story about being attacked by a sea lamprey. In the show, he said that the wounds created by the sea lamprey resembled the wounds of a particular mythical creature, the zombie, which is often shown in horror and fantasy genre works.

The wounded region will appear red and have holes in a circular path. A lamprey has 11-12 rows of sharp teeth arranged in a circular formation. The first set, arranged in an inner circle, is covered by the next set. These sharp oral structures drill into the skin, leaving holes and marks. Since the flesh is torn, the skin around the wounds appears red.

Lamprey fish parasite alive in the aquarium

How to remove a Lamprey from a human?

Before knowing how to remove a lamprey from a human, it is necessary to understand how they get attached and why they do it.

Lampreys rarely attack humans. An examination of all the stomach contents of the lamprey revealed that they are more likely to feed on small fish like lake trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. These are their ideal treats. They will choose cold-blooded fish over warm-blooded humans. They only attack humans when they are starving. This is very unlikely, as, in places like the Great Lakes, where the populations of fish like trout and Chinook are high, lampreys always have different kinds of food to munch on. These blood-sucking parasites need blood and other fluids to survive. They attach themselves to the host using the suction cup. They then use their teeth to dig into the skin of their host. This gives the lamprey additional grip and prevents it from falling down. After this, they use their teeth to scrape through the flesh and start sucking blood and other fluids from the body of the host. You can't just get them off your body by simply pushing them away like you do when you find ants on your body. This is much more complicated. Using their teeth, these blood-sucking creatures attach to your skin, giving them an immense grip, making it tough to remove them using your hand. They also drill through your skin immediately after they attach themselves. So, as experts say, the best way to remove a lamprey from your body is by using the same method that is used to get leeches off your body. Fire! Yes, standing by a campfire will allow you to get rid of these nasty parasitic critters. If a sea lamprey attacks you, it is even easier. Just pull whichever body part they are attached to out of the water. These desperate creatures will immediately let go once they start suffocating due to the absence of water.

Do sea Lamprey bites hurt?

Well, imagine a mouth filled with 11-12 rows of teeth attached to your skin and slowly drilling into it. Sounds excruciating, right?

Once sea lampreys get attached to the skin of their host, they will start grating on their host's flesh. This usually does not happen to humans, as a sea lamprey will only use its suction cup to draw blood and will mostly refrain from drilling or scraping human flesh. So, we can surely say encountering a sea lamprey is not pleasant. Sea lamprey bites can be very painful. It is even worse for fish, as sea lampreys ferociously approach them and practically suck the life out of them until they drop dead. Sea lamprey bites, apart from causing severe pain, are also known to spread infections. When they are swimming around for a long time with a hole in their body, they can develop long-term health issues. The hole can also create other infections. Recovering from a sea lamprey bite is not impossible, but the victim has to expend a lot of energy in the process.

Did you know?

The sea lamprey is a sloppy swimmer. Though the sea lamprey has a few attack techniques, it is not fast enough to attack a swimmer. Lamprey attacks are very common in the Great Lakes. These attacks do not involve humans. One sea lamprey is capable of killing 40 lb (18.1 kg) of fish. Lake trout, rainbow trout, and coho salmon are some of the fish species that are susceptible to sea lamprey attacks. Most of the host fish in the Great Lakes do not survive. The host fish will die immediately after the attack and will die from the infections caused by the wound area. Even the fish species that manage to survive will lose weight and develop other health conditions. The health of the affected fish will quickly deteriorate. Some fish even die after spending a considerable amount of energy while trying to restore their health.

Lampreys are known as 'nine eyed eels' in many ancient folklore. The seven external gill slits, together with one nose, one eye, and an eel-like appearance, have given lampreys this name.

Fisheries in Canada and the U.S. were greatly affected by the increase in the sea lamprey population in the early '40s. The sea lamprey species either killed or wounded other fish. Prior to the increase in sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes, fisheries harvested around 15 million lb (6.8 million kg) of lake trout in Canada and the U.S. The catch dropped drastically in the early '40s. Fisheries were only able to harvest 300,000 lb (136,077.7 kg) of fish due to, which did not even make up 2% of what was harvested the previous year.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission was established by a treaty to protect fisheries in 1955. The primary aim of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is to control invasive sea lampreys and avoid the collapse of fisheries. The treasure of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is worth over $7 billion.

Lampreys are filter feeders. This method is used during the lamprey's larval stage.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for lamprey bite, then why not take a look at dragonfly bite, or stingray facts?

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Written by Christian Mba

Bachelor of Science specializing in Computer Science

Christian Mba picture

Christian MbaBachelor of Science specializing in Computer Science

Christian Mba is an experienced blogger and content writer with over a decade of experience. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Nigeria and has a keen interest in Python programming. Along with his writing and blogging expertise, he is also an SEO specialist with more than six years of experience. Chris, as he is commonly known, has a passion for music and enjoys playing the piano.

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