Lamprey Disease – Myths Vs Realities

Lamprey Disease

A secret threat that disturbs the delicate balance of aquatic life is in action deep in the rivers and lakes. This threat is called “lamprey disease“. You might wonder, what are lampreys? Lampreys are eel-like fish and have played their role in the ecosystem for about 300 years. But, they are an alarming sign for many fish we eat.

Lamprey disease has been a hype that only emerged in social media. A few years back, it was considered a significant threat to humans, damaging their fingers and eyes. People thought that lamprey made people blind if they accidentally ate it or were bitten by them. But all these news were fake and considered propaganda to create fear.

Continue reading to learn what lamprey disease is. How it causes disease in other fish, and what is its role in being a parasite? This guide holds all the information you want to know. So, let’s begin.

Myths About Lamprey Disease

Myths About Lamprey Disease

Lamprey disease comes from a parasitic fish that depends on another fish for shelter and food. In 2007, a prank circulated over the internet where many photographs of human fingers and eyes were being discussed. The caption of those photos said that this finger and eye disease is caused by lamprey. The damaged fingers look like the mouth of a lamprey; hence, people considered this news trustworthy.

However, the news about this disease said that lamprey sticks to the other fish for food, spreading the disease to them. And when humans eat that fish, the disease transfers to them, too. But the fact links upto only the host fish’s disease and is not true about humans. Moreover, it was a hoax to create fear and terror among people. Scientists and many other medical specialists researched this news and found it fake. There was no scientific authenticity in the photographs and the news.

The Reality of the Existence of Lamprey Disease

How much reality exists in this news? The answer is there is no scientific proof in favor of this jerk. But you can’t deny that lamprey is dangerous to many fish species, and in some habitats – the Atlantic Ocean, it doesn’t kill its host, while in other lakes, it may take the life of its host species. It is not life-threatening to humans but may infect them in a rare situation. Lamprey doesn’t infect humans as severely as the photographs circulated many years ago.

Sea Lamprey – a Vampire Fish

The sea lamprey is four times bigger in size than other native fish. Hence, its bigger size plays a contributional role in attacking other innocent hosts in the lake. Moreover, there is no natural predator of sea lamprey in the lake that can control its population naturally and save other fish from its attack. The four significant species of sea lamprey are the following:

  • The silver lamprey
  • The chestnut lamprey
  • The northern brook lamprey
  • The American brook lamprey

All these species are considered the “vampire fish” due to their invasive quality. These eel-like parasites are so dangerous that if only one lamprey attacks seven hosts, then only one of them can survive. Still, its reproduction and mating capability will be lowered. The sea lamprey is enriched with teeth (about 100) used in sucking the side of the fish. It also has a knife-like tongue that drains fluid from the host’s body.

The terrifying part is that once lamprey attaches to the host, it can easily spend its next few months over the host feeding entirely from it. Laprey secrets an enzyme while sucking into the host’s body. These enzymes prevent blood clotting in the host. Hence, if they survive, healing from the wound will take a long time. If the host successfully shakes off the lamprey from its body, it will be left with the infection, and slowly, its life will be gone. Now, lamprey will find another host to live its next months.

Impacts of Lamprey

Impacts of Lamprey

Lamprey is a dangerous fish affecting many other fishes in the lake. As it lives in the Lake Champlain, it has detrimental effects on the Lake Champlain Basin ecosystem, the Lake Champlain Fish community, anglers, and many other people directly or indirectly involved in fishing. Several impacts of lamprey are broken out below:

Ecosystem Impacts

Sea lamprey attaches to its host fish, gives it scratches, makes a hole in the skin, and extracts fluid from its body. Lamprey sometimes kills its host to get food from it. The following are its host fish:

  • Lake Trout
  • Salmon
  • Walleye
  • Burbot
  • Whitefish
  • Northern Pike
  • Lake Sturgeon

The exciting part is that Lake Sturgeon has been declared an extinct species in New York and an endangered species in Vermont. And Sea lamprey is considered to be playing a significant role in affecting its existence. Moreover, New York state had extracted the Lake Trout and Salmon from the Lake Champlain to protect their existence. Even their stocking and breeding are also under threat of predation by sea lamprey.

Fishery Impacts

After some years, the host fish were restocked in the Lake Champlain. But despite extensive breeding, anglers caught Lake Trout and Salmon at Lake Champlain, and they thought that the number of fish they catch is quite lower than the fish they catch at smaller lakes. It continued preying on these hosts only because of the sea lamprey. Moreover, they observed many wounds on the host fish, and they confirmed the severe effect of lamprey on these fish.

According to a survey, sea lamprey has a 40-60% impact on the death rate of its host fish in the lake. Moreover, lamprey can kill about 40 or more than 40 pounds of fish in its adult life. And those hosts that survive its attack need more energy to get well than mating and producing eggs. Hence, their number decreases instantly under the effect of a large number of sea lamprey in the lake.

Economic Impacts

Sea Lamprey is so harmful to fish as well as humans that it has a large impact on the economy of the country. Due to its attacks and diseases, many anglers have found job opportunities elsewhere. Moreover, the country has faced economic and business losses of about 29.4 million dollars, which is not a small amount.

Hence, the control of the sea lamprey population should be under consideration as it has been impacting society, the economy, and ecosystems. It would be a huge responsibility to save other fish from the sea lamprey attack; otherwise, the state will face a great loss.

Lamprey Effect on Humans

Lamprey Effect on Humans

How lamprey affects humans has been a mystery to many people. As discussed earlier, it was considered to be the cause of many infections in humans. But the fact is that lamprey has nothing to do with humans as they are not its taste. The only ways you can get an infection from lamprey are:

  • You eat lamprey too much
  • Lamprey bites you while swimming, which is quite rare

However, if lamprey bites you, it will not be detrimental. But as it secretes clotting prevention enzymes, the wound will heal slower. And if you don’t treat the wound properly, the infection will spread.

Hence, the lamprey is so threatening to many dish species as well as the economy of the country. Understanding this species is crucial as it plays a leading role in balancing our ecosystem, and it is a challenge we must tackle together. Moreover, avoid eating its host fish and swimming in the lake or ocean where you know its presence. Otherwise, its untreated wound can lead to severe infections.