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Sea Lampreys Spawning In Connecticut River

e-eagle with sea lamprey 325Sea Lampreys aren’t a common sight, but an opportunity presented itself after this Bald Eagle “rowed” from the middle of the Connecticut River to the shore with its too-heavy-to-lift prey, ate a portion of it and flew to its nest with a slightly lighter load.  At first glance I thought it had captured a large snake, but closer inspection revealed that a three-to-five pound Sea Lamprey approaching 30 inches in length was clasped in the eagle’s talons!

Lampreys were accidentally introduced into the Great Lakes and Vermont’s Lake Champlain, where they became parasites of other fish due to being landlocked.  However, during the time the native Sea Lampreys are found in the Connecticut River, they are not parasitic. These fish are anadromous – they live as adults in the ocean (where they are parasitic) and return in May and June to spawn in fresh water.

Sea lamprey young spend three or four years as worm-like creatures burrowed in the soft mud of the Connecticut River.  When they reach five or six inches (which can take up to ten years), young lamprey head for the sea. The ocean-dwelling adults uses their round, rasping mouth – filled with concentric circles of teeth – to scrape a hole in the side of a host fish and feed on blood and body fluids before letting go. They weaken, but don’t kill, their hosts. After spending one to two years in salt water, Sea Lamprey head back to the closest freshwater stream or river, migrate upstream, cease feeding and spawn.  They never return to the ocean, as they die after mating and laying eggs.

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15 responses

  1. nangalland

    Wow!! WHAT A SHOT!! Awesome, Mary….. Nan


    June 3, 2016 at 7:12 am

    • Thanks so much, Nan. 99% luck in being in the right place at the right time!

      June 3, 2016 at 7:30 am

  2. Pam Schoch

    So, how old would this large lamprey have been?

    June 3, 2016 at 7:20 am

    • Hard to say exactly, but probably around 6-8 years (5-6 in CT River is average, 1-2 years in Atlantic Ocean)

      June 3, 2016 at 7:32 am

  3. Knox Johnson

    Wow! I wasn’t aware that these are in the Connecticut R. at all let alone their life cycle. Thanks Mary

    June 3, 2016 at 7:50 am

  4. Marilyn

    Nice catch (for the eagle AND the photographer)! Too bad about the landlocked lampreys.

    June 3, 2016 at 8:39 am

  5. Kathie Fiveash

    Here on the island in Penobscot Bay, I sometimes see a bald eagle that has killed a gull or heavy sea duck like an eider rowing through the water towing its prey to a ledge to pluck and eat its catch. When the tide is coming, the eagle sometime loses much of its meal to the rising sea.

    June 3, 2016 at 9:23 am

  6. An incredible capture Mary! You must have been thrilled to get this photo. I had no idea lampreys were introduced OR that they migrate from salt to fresh water. Unbelievable! (Have never seen one that I know of….) And I’m so happy that this eagle was able to catch one! Thank you, as always, for sharing your endless nature knowledge and amazing photography.

    June 3, 2016 at 10:53 am

  7. Ruth Sylvester

    ” flew to its nest with a slightly lighter load.’ Actually still carrying the load, I expect, just differently packed 😉

    Thanks for the on-going series of beautiful and surprising photos,graceful and informative text, and general waking people up to the world right there in so many different scales and senses.

    June 3, 2016 at 11:33 am

  8. Jon Binhammmer

    Great photo and story! Not to be too picky, but my understanding is that recent genetic studies have suggested that lamprey may be native to Lake Champlain (as a holdover from the Champlain sea), but perhaps not the Great Lakes

    June 3, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    • Thanks for your comment Jon. I am not familiar with the genetic studies comparing lamprey. That’s good information. But Lake Champlain and the great lakes surely were once connected to the sea. Lake Champlain contains over 100 species of fish, a very different collection of fauna, than the rest of Vermont waters.

      June 3, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    • Nice to know!

      June 3, 2016 at 2:05 pm

  9. Susan Greenberg

    Fantastic photo, Mary!

    June 3, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    • Thanks, Susan. As you know, it’s mostly luck!

      June 3, 2016 at 3:25 pm

  10. So interesting to learn this and wow, what a terrific photo! Have a great weekend, Mary.

    June 3, 2016 at 10:11 pm

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