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Students study 'lake vampires,' invasive sea lamprey

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Students study 'lake vampires,' invasive sea lamprey

 

 

October 08, 2009

Kym Reinstadler / www.mlive.com

 

 

GRAND RAPIDS -- It attaches itself with a suction-cup like mouth that rasps away tissue with rows of sharp teeth and a probing tongue. Its oral secretions prevent its victim's blood from clotting, so most die quickly from blood loss. The rest succumb later, from infection.

 

Sounds like a Halloween tale, but it's true. The real fright is that its happening in the Great Lakes.

 

Representatives of Shedd Aquarium were in Grand Rapids on Wednesday with an aquarium of eel-like sea lamprey pulled out of northern Lake Huron by a fisherman's net. The creature's nickname is "lake vampire."

 

"It was slimy and spongy and ugly," said Natasha Rivera, who was among Coit Creative Arts Academy students who followed the example of fourth-grade teacher Tim Mekkes and let a lamprey attach to their arm during a presentation on invasive species.

 

The lamprey teeth feel like pinpricks and breaking its suction is only slightly uncomfortable, Mekkes assured students.

 

It's only that easy because the lamprey don't prefer people, said James De. Clark, a senior aquarist.

 

Lamprey are parasites that feast on other fish, each devouring about 40 pounds a year. And this is how the lamprey decimated indigenous fish populations of the Great Lakes in the 1930s and 1940s and virtually kills Michigan's commercial fishing industry, Clark said.

 

The lamprey also feeds on certain predator species, allowed another invasive species, the alewife, to explode, threatening native fish populations. Control measures that began in 1958 have brought the lamprey problem about 90 percent under control, said Marc Gaden, communications director of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a joint U.S.-Canada body that administers control measures.

 

Lamprey aren't ghastly in their native environment, northern coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, Clark said.

 

Able to live in both salt and freshwater, lamprey are believed to have entered the Great Lakes as canals were built linking the ocean with the Great Lakes.

 

Rinsing hulls before launching boats in another body of water, not dumping live bait in water, and never discharging pet fish into lakes and streams are things kids can do to prevent the spread of invasive

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