Sea 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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