Pacific lamprey are dark blue or brown in color and grow to about 30 inches (76 cm) as adults. They are anadromous (meaning they are born in fresh water, swim out to the ocean where they feed as a juvenile, and then mature and return to freshwater as an adult to reproduce). Pacific lampreys are semelparous (meaning they die after reproducing once during their lifetime). Although the adult and juvenile stages are more noticeable, lamprey 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 who 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. The adults live at least 1-2 years in the ocean and then return to fresh water to spawn. It is not well understood if Pacific lamprey return to their natal streams or seek spawning areas based on other cues. They typically spawn in similar habitat to Pacific salmon and trout. Lamprey 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 4 days. Also, like salmon, the Pacific lamprey does not feed while migrating to spawn.
Pacific lamprey are an important ceremonial food for Native American tribes in the Columbia River basin. Pacific lamprey numbers in the Columbia River have greatly declined with the construction of the Columbia River hydro-power 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).
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2012). "Entosphenus tridentatus" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
- Lamprey facts
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