Known as sea lampreys — or vampire fish — the bizarre-looking parasite spends it time attacking fish populations in North America.
A sea lamprey has no jaw, no proper teeth and no bones. Yet this predator can attach like a suction cup to a fish 100 times its size, use its tongue to burrow a hole into its side, liquefy its tissues and eat it.
A single lamprey can kill up to 20 kilograms of fish in just two years. On this fishy, bloody diet, a young lamprey weighing five grams will grow 40 to 50 times larger by the time it becomes an adult. And there are thousands of these vampire fish in the Great Lakes.
Are you horrified yet?
It boasts an eel-like body without paired fins and a jawless mouth filled with sharp teeth arranged in concentric circular rows.
“They use that toothy mouth and it sucks on a side of a fish and then it uses its tongue to drill a hole through the fish to suck its blood and fluid out,” said Ted Lawrence from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
Once the lamprey is firmly attached, it’ll stay stuck for anywhere from a few hours to a full day, rasping or gouging, then resting for a bit, then back to rasping or gouging. The blood-suckers will typically leave their prey alive after the whole ordeal, “because it’s not advantageous for a parasite, if you wish, to kill its host, because then it won’t have the ability to feed on that one again,” said Renaud. “And the host can recover, replenish its blood supply, and remain there for another meal.” Still, some die of resulting infections.
The flesh-eaters, though, laugh in the face of such mercy. They’re typically targeting smaller schooling fish like herring, boring and boring until “they’ll actually skeletonize the fish that they’re feeding on,” according to Renaud. The fish either dies from massive blood loss or infection or, you know, just having a big hole in its body.
The frightening-looking creatures have been coveted throughout history, as a prized food source for ancient Romans, kings and First Nations people.
Today, it is still considered a culinary delicacy by many different cultures, including Dutch, French and Latvian.
Henri Roquas is a food archaeologist, artist and chef from the Netherlands who has founded the Zeeprik Genootschap, a sea lamprey society dedicated to bringing attention to the unique marine dweller.
Mr Roquas is fostering ancient traditions around consuming the unique creature.
While he has been preserving old traditional French recipes, the lamprey lover has also been experimenting with new methods, each with a different taste.
Dealing with the infestation of the sea lampreys comes under the tasks undertaken by the Commission which was established by US and Canadian wildlife authorities. The fish has the dubious distinction of possibly being the first destructive invasive species in North America.