home Alaska, Recent News Lampreys Falling From The Sky In Alaska

Lampreys Falling From The Sky In Alaska

Washington Post – June, 2015

It all began outside of Value Village in Fairbanks, Alaska. Somehow, a strange-looking eel-like fish — equipped with teeth perfect for latching onto another animal and sucking its blood — ended up in the thrift store’s parking lot last week.

Oh, and the fish was alive.

So store employees put the wiggling creature in a bucket of water and called the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to report it.

The department has since received three other reports of the fish on land in Fairbanks, including one spotted on a man’s lawn.

They are arctic lampreys — long, jawless fish that are the most common lamprey in Alaskan waters.

“They are parasites on other fish and sometimes other marine animals,” said ADFG sport fish information officer Nancy Sisinyak. “They latch on with those rasping teeth and they live off of the nutrients of that host animal.”

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Arctic Lamprey, Yukon River near Kaltag. (Randy Brown/USFWS) Arctic Lamprey, Yukon River near Kaltag. (Randy Brown/USFWS)

Sisinyak said gulls likely picked up the fish in the nearby Chena River and then dropped them from their mouths mid-flight over the town.

“When the fish wiggles free, and the bill scrapes the gills off the fish, it leaves a V-shape on either side,” Sisinyak said.

Lampreys start out small but can grow up to 15 inches in length — just as long as the fish found on land.

Sisinyak said the disturbing fish do fall from the sky from time to time, but this many reports within a short time frame is unusual. It may be because of an overabundance of lampreys in Chera River, but not much is known about these fish and their life histories, Sisinyak said.

Researchers do know that lampreys are anadromous, meaning they live in both the ocean and fresh water, and they come back to rivers to spawn. Female lampreys can release up to 100,000 eggs each, and adults die soon after fertilization.

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Baby lampreys are born without teeth and sucking mouths, and it can take three to seven years before they form them as adults.”Some people think they’re really ugly,” Sisinyak said. “I don’t think that.”