Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Petromyzon marinus
(sea lamprey)



Petromyzon marinus (sea lamprey)


  • Last modified
  • 19 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Petromyzon marinus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • sea lamprey
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Cephalaspidomorphi
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • P. marinus in native to both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, but has now invaded the Great Lakes in North America. It has the ability to disrupt the community trophic structure through interactions with key sp...

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Petromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult, showing mouthparts. USA.
CaptionPetromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult, showing mouthparts. USA.
Copyright©T. Lawrence/Great Lakes Fishery Commission/NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory - CC BY-SA 2.0
Petromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult, showing mouthparts. USA.
AdultPetromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult, showing mouthparts. USA.©T. Lawrence/Great Lakes Fishery Commission/NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory - CC BY-SA 2.0
Petromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult.
CaptionPetromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult.
Copyright©T. Lawrence/Great Lakes Fishery Commission/NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory - CC BY-SA 2.0
Petromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult.
AdultPetromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adult.©T. Lawrence/Great Lakes Fishery Commission/NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory - CC BY-SA 2.0
Petromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adults on a lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush). USA.
CaptionPetromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adults on a lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush). USA.
CopyrightReleased into the Public Domain by the United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Petromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adults on a lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush). USA.
AdultsPetromyzon marinus (sea lamprey); adults on a lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush). USA.Released into the Public Domain by the United States Geological Survey (USGS)


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Petromyzon marinus Linnaeus, 1758

Preferred Common Name

  • sea lamprey

Other Scientific Names

  • Ammocoetes bicolor Lesueur, 1818
  • Batymyzon bairdii Gill, 1883
  • Lampetra marina Linnaeus, 1758
  • Oceanomyzon wilsoni Fowler, 1908
  • Petromyzon adriaticus Nardo, 1847
  • Petromyzon americanus Lesueur, 1818
  • Petromyzon bairdii Gill, 1883
  • Petromyzon concolor Wright, 1892
  • Petromyzon lampetra Pallas, 1814
  • Petromyzon maculosus Gronow, 1854
  • Petromyzon marinus dorsatus Wilder, 1883
  • Petromyzon marinus unicolor Gage, 1928
  • Petromyzon maximus Cuvier, 1816
  • Petromyzon nigricans Lesueur, 1818
  • Petromyzon rubber Lacepède, 1800

International Common Names

  • Spanish: lamprea de mar
  • French: lamproie marine

Local Common Names

  • Albania: kavall deti; peshk kavall
  • Belgium: lamproie marine
  • Canada/Quebec: lamproie
  • Croatia: paklara
  • Czech Republic: mihule morská
  • Denmark: havlampret; havniøje
  • Faroe Islands: kjølsúgari; súgari
  • Finland: merinahkiainen
  • France: anguille musique; grande lamproie; lamparda; lampre; lampré; lampreda; lampresa; lamprez; lampria; lamproia; lamproie de mer; lamproie marbrée; lamprua; pesciu pece; sept-œil; suce-pierre; suchja pece
  • Germany: Große Lamprete; Großes Neunauge; Meerneunauge; Neunaugenkönig; Seelamprete
  • Greece: petromyzon
  • Iceland: sæsteinsuga
  • Ireland: an loimpre mhara; lamproie
  • Italy: lampreda di mare
  • Latvia: morskaja minoga
  • Malta: buwahhal; qalfat; sangisug
  • Netherlands: zeeprik
  • Norway: havniøye
  • Poland: minóg morski
  • Portugal: lampreia do mar; lampreia-do-mar; lampreira marinha
  • Romania: chiscar de mare
  • Russian Federation: morskaya minoga
  • Serbia: morska paklara
  • Slovakia: mihula morská
  • Slovenia: morski piskor; morski piškur
  • Spain: amprea; amprega; chucladit; ferrêtimo; lampardia; lamprea; lampreia; llamprea; llampresa; llampresa de mar; pegatimôn; xuclador
  • Sweden: havsnejonöga
  • Switzerland: lamprete
  • Turkey: derebofa baligi
  • UK: great sea lamprey; green sea lamprey; marine lamprey; nannie nine eyes; stone sucker
  • USA: eel sucker; green lamprey; lamper; lamprey eel; nine eyes; shad lamprey; spotted lamprey

Summary of Invasiveness

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P. marinus in native to both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, but has now invaded the Great Lakes in North America. It has the ability to disrupt the community trophic structure through interactions with key species, which could result in cascading effects that alter the species composition of the environment. The parasitic phase of reproductively immature P. marinus has contributed to dramatic reductions and extirpations of populations of large predatory fish such as lake trout in the Great Lakes, resulting in drastic changes throughout food web and contribute to collapse of regional fisheries and large scale disruptions of the aquatic community.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Cephalaspidomorphi
  •                     Order: Petromyzontiformes
  •                         Family: Petromyzontidae
  •                             Genus: Petromyzon
  •                                 Species: Petromyzon marinus


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P. marinusis an eel-like jawless fish with a soft cartilaginous skeleton. In the adult, the jaws are rudimentary, the mouth being a longitudinal slit when closed, but forming an elliptical disk at the tip of the snout when open, armed with many horny, hooked teeth arranged in numerous (11 to 12) rows, the innermost the largest (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002).It has no scales and no paired fins, but has two close dorsal fins, seven gill openings on each side (Page and Burr, 1991; Jenkins and Burkhead, 1994), whereas the hag has only one gill pore on each side, and only one fin (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). P. marinus has a grey-blue back, metallic violet body colour on sides, shading to silver-white underneath and skin is often marbled. During the breeding season, the landlocked form takes on more brilliant hues, with the ground tint turning bright yellow (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002).

Varying lengths and weights have been reported for P. marinus. Sexually mature individualsin the USA averaged 60-75 cm long, up to a maximum of about 90 cm (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). However, maximum reported total length is as long as 120 cm (Page and Burr, 1991). P. marinus at 30-50 cm in length weighed 225-340 g, and at 98 cm in length weighing 1100 g (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). The maximum published weight and age of P. marinus is 2.5 kg (Bristow, 1992) and 9 years old (Froese and Pauly, 2008).

The larvae are different in appearance from the adults. Larvae are blind, toothless, with mouths and fins of different shape (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002).


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P. marinus is native to the east coast of North America from Labrador to the Gulf of Mexico, the north-east Atlantic coast from Norway, Iceland and the Barents Sea, to northern Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea (Page and Burr, 1991). The distribution table indicates it as native throughout the Mediterranean Sea, however, its exact status and limits of the native range in the Mediterranean is uncertain, and it is considered absent in the Black Sea.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


TurkeyAbsent, formerly present Not invasive Bilecenoglu et al., 2002Status of threat: Regionally extinct


AlgeriaPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
EgyptPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
LibyaPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
MoroccoPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
TunisiaPresentNativeVladykov, 1984

North America

CanadaPresentNativeCoker et al., 2001Native species ranging from Quebec to Newfoundland and Sable Island; introduced to Ontario
-New BrunswickPresentNativeCoker et al., 2001
-Newfoundland and LabradorPresentNativeCoker et al., 2001
-Nova ScotiaPresentNativeCoker et al., 2001
-OntarioPresentIntroducedCoker et al., 2001
-Prince Edward IslandPresentNativeCoker et al., 2001
-QuebecPresentNativeCoker et al., 2001
GreenlandLocalisedNative Not invasive Robins and , 1986Seen once at Cape Farewell where three specimens were found clinging to the side of a ship
MexicoPresentNativePage and Burr, 1991
USAWidespreadNative Invasive Page and Burr, 1991A serious pest in landlocked areas
-ConnecticutPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-DelawarePresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-FloridaPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-GeorgiaPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-IllinoisPresentIntroduced Invasive Emery, 1985
-IndianaPresentIntroduced Invasive Emery, 1985
-MainePresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-MarylandPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-MassachusettsPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-MichiganPresentIntroduced Invasive Smith, 1979
-MinnesotaPresentIntroduced Invasive Emery, 1985
-New HampshirePresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-New JerseyPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-New YorkPresentSmith, 1985; Fuller et al., 2008Native to coastal areas, introduced and invasive in inland areas
-North CarolinaPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-OhioPresentIntroduced Invasive Emery, 1985
-PennsylvaniaPresentEmery, 1985; Froese and Pauly, 2008Native to coastal areas, introduced and invasive in inland areas
-Rhode IslandPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-South CarolinaPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-VermontPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-VirginiaPresentNative Not invasive Fuller et al., 2008
-WisconsinPresentIntroduced Invasive Emery, 1985


AlbaniaPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
BelgiumPresentNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978
Bosnia-HercegovinaPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
CroatiaPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
Czech RepublicAbsent, formerly present Not invasive Lusk and Hanel, 2000Occured in Vltava and Otava rivers
DenmarkWidespreadNativeMuus and Dahlstrøm, 1989Spawns in larger streams and rivers throughout the country
EstoniaPresentAnon, 1999Considered a stray species in the Estonian Baltic
Faroe IslandsPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Joensen and Vedel, 1970Two known specimens - one sent to the Royal Museum of Natural History, Denmark, and one found in the sea east of Nólsoy 9 Nov. 1894, where it adhered to the rudder of a boat
FinlandPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Koli, 1990A total of about 20 specimens caught in Finland, mostly in the Gulf of Finland. Considered as rare in its northern distribution.
FranceWidespreadNativeKeith and Allardi, 2001Occurs in all large rivers and coastal rivers but its wide area of distribution over France has been reduced because of the dams built on the waterways.
GermanyLocalisedNative Not invasive Muus and Dahlström, 1968Found in the Elbe Estuary. Endangered in 1984 . Critically endangered in 1992. Protected year-round in Schleswig-Holstein in 1997. Recorded from ballast water in commercial vessels with destination port in Germany.
GibraltarPresentNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978
GreecePresentNativeVladykov, 1984Doubtful presence along Ionian Sea
IcelandPresentNative Not invasive Jonsson, 1992
IrelandWidespreadNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978
Isle of Man (UK)PresentNativeVladykov, 1984
ItalyPresentNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978
LatviaPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Blanc et al., 1971
LithuaniaPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Blanc et al., 1971
MaltaPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Vladykov, 1984
MonacoPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
NetherlandsPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Nijssen and Groot, 1974
NorwayPresentNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978
PolandPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Vladykov, 1984
PortugalPresentNativeCollares-Pereira et al., 2000Found in Tagus estuary
-MadeiraPresentNativeRibeiro et al., 2005
Russian FederationPresentNativeReshetnikov et al., 1997Reported from the Gulf of Finland, the Narova and Luga rivers as well as in the Gulf of Kola and in the Ura River. Very rarely in the Baltic.
-Northern RussiaPresentNativeReshetnikov et al., 1997
SerbiaPresentNativeBlanc et al., 1971
SloveniaPresentNativeVladykov, 1984
SpainPresentNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978
SwedenPresentNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978
SwitzerlandPresent, few occurrencesNative Not invasive Hartmann, 1827Rarely migrates upward the Rhine until Basel
UKPresentNativeMuus and Dahlström, 1978Considered as rare in its northern distribution
-Channel IslandsPresentNativeVladykov, 1984

History of Introduction and Spread

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From its native range, P. marinushas moved to the Great Lakes through the canal system, first discovered in its non-indigenous range in Lake Ontario in 1835, Lake Erie in 1921, Lake Michigan in 1936, Lake Huron in 1937, and Lake Superior in 1946 (Applegate, 1950; Lawrie, 1970; Smith, 1979; Smith and Tibbles, 1980; Smith, 1985; Fuller et al., 2008). However, there is some controversy as whether to classify P. marinusas an exotic species in Lake Ontario and some lakes in Vermont and New York states.

It is established throughout the Great Lakes region and some tributaries (Fuller et al., 2008), including Illinois (Smith, 1979; Emery, 1985); Indiana (Gerking, 1955; Emery, 1985); Michigan (Applegate, 1950; Smith, 1979; Cudmore-Vokey and Crossman, 2000); Minnesota (Eddy and Underhill, 1974; Phillips et al., 1982; Emery, 1985); New York (Smith, 1985); Ohio (Trautman, 1981; Emery, 1985); Pennsylvania (Emery, 1985); and Wisconsin (Becker, 1983; Emery, 1985). Furthermore, it is also present in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin; Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana; Isle Royale National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (Tilmant, 1999); and Walnut Creek, Pennsylvania (Phillips et al., 2003).

Apart from the controversy whether P. marinus is exotic or native to Lake Ontario, this species is not native to the other Great Lakes and tributaries where it is now readily found (Fuller et al., 2008). The means of introduction is through canals and tributaries from its native range to the Great Lakes, P. marinus was previously prevented from spreading into Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes basin by the Niagara Falls, but the Welland Canal opened in 1829, by-passed Niagara Falls providing a route to Lake Erie from Lake Ontario (Aron and Smith, 1971). From the opening of the Welland Canal to the discovery of P. marinus in Lake Erie in 1921, almost a century passed, and it was found throughout the Great Lakes as far as Lake Superior within 25 years of its arrival in Lake Erie (Fuller et al., 2008).


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
USA   Yes Wonham et al. (2000) Introductions attributed to ballast-water transport (including attributions to transport in bilge water or other seawater systems)

Risk of Introduction

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Larval P. marinuscan be spread into non-native areas as it is being used as bait by anglers. Also, there are possibilities that P. marinuscan be introduced to new areas through ship/boat fouling or through ship ballast water and ship bilge water.


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P. marinus is an amphihaline species making important migrations from sea water to freshwater to breed. P. marinus spends its adult life in the sea for about 20-30 months (Froese and Pauly, 2008) and enters freshwater/estuaries for spawning in spring (Rochard and Elie, 1994). They are able to ascend falls if these are not too steep and high, by clinging to rocks with their oral discs and resting, and they may run upstream for long distances in large rivers (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). In marine environments it can be found at depths up to 2200 m (Froese and Pauly, 2008).

The larvae of P. marinus prefer soft sediment substrates in clear streams, and larvae are reported to spend 6-8 years in the substrate followed by metamorphosis and movement to the sea (Froese and Pauly, 2008). Larvae live in rivers where they feed on microorganisms and detritus (Rochard and Elie, 1994; Billard, 1997). The juvenile period is in the estuarine/marine environment which last 23-28 months, during which they grow from around 4 to 900 g and at the end of this period, they move into rivers as adults and reproduce (Gallant et al., 2006).

Habitat List

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Lakes Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lakes Present, no further details Natural
Rivers / streams Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Estuaries Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Inshore marine Principal habitat Natural
Pelagic zone (offshore) Principal habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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The recorded haploid and diploid chromosomes number of P. marinus in the UK is 84 (n) and 168-168 (2n) (Arkhipchuk, 1999), and the same haploid and diploid chromosome numbers of P. marinus have been reported by Hardisty (1986) and Klinkhardt et al. (1995) in unspecified locations. Bryan et al. (2005) reported that the genetic structure of invasive P. marinus populations differ from that of their anadromous ancestors.

Piavis et al. (1970) assumed that P. marinus and Icthyomyzon unicuspis might hybridize, based on the gross similarities of the secondary sexual characteristics of the two species (Smith et al., 1968) and of other lampreys (Vladykov, 1949).

There have been a number of molecular studies on P. marinus, and in 1995 the complete mitochondrial genome of the species was published (Lee and Kocher, 1995).

Reproductive Biology

Adult P. marinus enters freshwater and estuaries for spawning in spring, and after spawning they normally die (Rochard and Elie, 1994). As the two sexes mature, the males develop a strong ridge along the back, the females a crest-like fin between the anus and the caudal fin (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). P. marinus requires gravelly bottoms in rapid water for their spawning beds and with muddy or sandy bottoms in quiet water nearby, for the larvae. In many small streams, and in larger ones if these are blocked by dams or high falls, they may spawn only a short distance upstream; even within the influence of the tide, although invariably in fresh water (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002).

P. marinus mate in pairs, sometimes with a second female assisting, making depressions 60-90 cm in diameter and about 15 cm deep in the stream bed in stretches where the bottom is stony or pebbly (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). A female P. marinus can lay between 35,000 to 100,000 eggs and small and non-yolky eggs are buried in spawning redds excavated in clean, hard bottom. Spawning commences when the temperature of the water is about 10°C and is completed by the time it is warmed to about 20-21°C (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). Fertilization takes place externally.

After hatching, the larvae, known as ammocoetes burrow into the sediment where they live for 6-8 years, followed by metamorphosis (Froese and Pauly, 2008). During this period, most of the time they live in burrows in the mud or sand, or hide under stones (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). At the end of this larval period, when they have grown to a length of 10-15 cm, they undergo transformation to the adult form and structure. During metamorphosis, the eyes and the sucker-like mouth develop and the adults then migrate to the sea. Juvenile feeding period lasts for 23-28 months, during which time they grow from around 4 to 900 g, and at the end of this period, they move into rivers as adults and reproduce (Galant et al., 2006).


In salt water they have been found preying on mackerel, various anadromous herrings, cod, haddock, American pollock (Pollachius), salmon, basking sharks, swordfish, hake (Urophycis), sturgeons and eels (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002).

P. marinus parasitically attaches and feeds on healthy fish. Larvae feed on microorganisms and detritus (Rochard and Elie, 1994; Billard, 1997). During the juvenile feeding phase, they may not only feed on dead or netted fish, but also attach themselves to healthy fish, e.g. a wide variety of bony fishes, sharks and marine mammals, by scraping a hole in their skin and sucking out the blood, body fluids and flesh (Froese and Pauly, 2008). The landlocked form is very destructive to freshwater fishes and occasionally annoys bathers by clinging to them (Rochard and Elie, 1994). During the return to freshwater from the sea, P. marinus do not feed because the digestive organs degenerate, and shortly after spawning they die (Froese and Pauly, 2008).

The lake-phase feed parasitically on healthy fish including ciscoes (Coregonus spp.), lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), white sucker Catostomus commersoni), longnose sucker (Catostomus catostomus), redhorse (Moxostoma spp.), yellow perch (Perca flavescens), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), burbot (Lota lota), channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), northern pike (Esox lucius), and common carp (Cyprinus carpio).

Environmental Requirements

Under experimental conditions, the time from fertilization of P. marinus eggs to 50% hatching and from hatching to 50% burrowing were found to be inversely related to incubation temperature (Rodrigues-Muncozet al., 2001). Hatching is favoured at 15-16°C, and larvae emerging from hatching at 15°C showed maximum survival during the first 3 months of exogenous feeding reared at constant 21°C, while larvae emerged from hatching at 19°C and 23°C showed very low survival. Rodrigues-Muncozet al. (2001) also reported that mean incubation temperatures during the embryonic development in the source river were estimated in 15.3±2.3°C and 16.7±1.76°C for the periods fertilization-to-hatching and hatching-to burrowing, respectively.


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C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
25-72 0 0 0

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 15 Optimum Larval 15–23 tolerated (hatching), 21 preferred (larval rearing)

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Salmo trutta Predator Adult/Juvenile not specific
Xiphias gladius Predator Adult/Juvenile not specific

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

P. marinus is believed to have migrated through the Erie, Welland and St Lawrence canal systems to the Great Lakes.

Vector Transmission

Larval P. marinus is used as bait in non-native areas and due to its parasitic nature it can be dispersed from one location to the other via the host.

Accidental Dispersal 

P. marinus may have been introduced to new areas by attachment to boats through ship/boat hull fouling through canal system. Ship ballast water and ship bilge water is also another means of introduction into new areas.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Interconnected waterwaysAdults. Believed to have migrated through Erie Canal, Welland, and St Lawrence canal systems Yes Fuller et al., 2008

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
BaitLarvae Yes Fuller et al., 2008
Ship ballast water and sediment Yes Fuller et al., 2008
Ship bilge water Yes Fuller et al., 2008
Ship hull foulingAdults Yes Fuller et al., 2008
WaterAdults. Migrated through Erie canal, Welland and St Lawrence canal systems into Great lakes Yes Fuller et al., 2008

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative

Economic Impact

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Decline of several large native species, including several ciscoes (Coregonus spp.), lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), and walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), among others has been attributed to the introduction of P. marinus to the Great Lakes and its subsequent abundance, together with water pollution, over fishing, and the collapse in commercial fisheries during the 1940s and 1950s in many parts of the Great Lakes, particularly in lakes Huron and Michigan, and in eastern Lake Superior (e.g., Lawrie, 1970; Scott and Crossman, 1973; Christie, 1974; Smith and Tibbles, 1980; Becker, 1983; Emery, 1985; Courtenay, 1993; Fuller et al., 2008). As stated in Fuller et al. (2008) lake trout catch in Lake Huron fell from 1.55 million kg in 1937 to virtual failure in 1947 and in Lake Michigan, the catch fell from 2.5 million kg in 1946 to 183 kg in 1953. In Lake Superior, catch dropped from an average of 2.0 million kg to 0.16727 million kg in 1961 (Scott and Crossman, 1973).


Environmental Impact

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P. marinus has the ability to disrupt the community trophic structure through interactions with key species, which could result in cascading effects that alter the species composition of the environment (Chappin et al., 1997). The parasitic phase of reproductively immature P. marinus has contributed to dramatic reductions and extirpations of populations of large predatory fish such as lake trout in the Great Lakes, USA (Bryan et al., 2005), resulting in cascading effect that cause drastic changes throughout food web and contribute to collapse of regional fisheries and large scale disruptions of the aquatic community (Smith and Tibbles, 1980).

Predation by P. marinus is partially responsible for the extinction of three native species in the Great Lakes; the longjaw cisco (Coregonus alpenae), the deepwater cisco (Coregonus johannae), and the blackfin cisco (Coregonus nigripinnis)(Miller et al., 1989). With reduced numbers of large predators due to lamprey predation, the invading alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) from the Atlantic Ocean into Great Lakes in the 1940s resulted in an explosion of its population with serious consequences on distributions and abundances of native fish (Smith and Tibbles, 1980).

In freshwater, P. marinus attacks white sucker Catostomus commersoni, longnose sucker Catostomus catostomus, redhorse Moxostoma spp., yellow perch Perca flavescens, rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss, burbot Lota lota, channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus, northern pike Esox lucius, and common carp Cyprinus carpio (Scott and Crossman, 1973;Fuller et al., 2008).

IUCN Red List status of P. marinus is LR (low risk)/LC (least concern) (World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 1996).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Negatively impacts aquaculture/fisheries
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Parasitism (incl. parasitoid)
  • Predation
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Difficult/costly to control


Top of page Economic Value

P. marinus has a minor commercial fishery value (Froese and Pauly, 2008), but it is used for human food consumption, and is even a delicacy in parts of Europe. Sea lamprey larvae have been used in considerable numbers for bait in the Susquehanna River, and perhaps elsewhere along the mid Atlantic coast of the USA (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Bait/attractant

Human food and beverage

  • Meat/fat/offal/blood/bone (whole, cut, fresh, frozen, canned, cured, processed or smoked)

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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P. marinus can hardly be mistaken for any other fish, its eel-like appearance coupled with two dorsal fins and the jawless mouth identifying it at a glance (Bigelow and Schroeder, 2002). However, the larval stage can be confused with native species and the adult phase can be confused with species such as Lampetra appendix (American brook lamprey or lamproie de l'est). Small P. marinus and Lampetra appendix are distinguished on the basis of oral teeth, with Lampetra appendix having a single row of oral teeth, whereas P. marinus has several rows of oral teeth.

Prevention and Control

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Physical/mechanical control

Sea lamprey traps are operated at various locations throughout the Great Lakes, designed to catch lampreys as they travel upstream to spawn often in association with barriers, and male lampreys caught in the traps are used for the sterile-male-release-technique (see biological control). Today, traps are operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Great Lakes Fishery Commission, 2008).

Movement control

Early methods to control the movement of this species included mechanical weirs and electrical barriers (Scott and Crossman, 1973; Smith and Tibbles, 1980). Barriers have been used to block the upstream migration of spawning sea lampreys, while allowing other fish to pass with minimal disruption. Various types of barriers have been able to replace chemical lampricide treatment on some streams (Great Lake Fishery Commission, 2008). New barrier designs include velocity barriers that take advantage of the lamprey's poor swimming ability, and adjustable-crest barriers which can be inflated during the spawning run and then deflated to allow other fish to pass during the rest of the year (Great Lake Fishery Commission, 2008).

Biological control

In 1991, following 20 years of research and development, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission began a large-scale experimental program to determine whether sea lamprey sterilization aimed at reducing the success of sea lamprey spawning could be an effective, non-chemical control technique in the Great Lakes. According to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (2008), each year, male sea lampreys are collected and sterilized during their spawning runs and when they are released back into streams, the sterile males compete with normal males for spawning females, resulting in reduced fertilization of eggs. Since they are caught during spawning runs rather than during the parasitic phase, sterilized males do not prey on fish when they are released back into the spawning streams. Further information on the efficacy of this technique is required.

Chemical control

In late 1950s, P. marinus was successfully controlled by use of the lampricide 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM), a chemical agent that kills larval lampreys in their stream habitats (Smith and Tibbles, 1980). The lampricide reduced the population by over 90% as compared to the 1961 peak (Scott and Crossman, 1973). However, in order to keep P. marinus populations under control, continued use of TFM was required (Scott and Crossman, 1973; Becker, 1983). About 175 Great Lakes streams are treated at regular intervals with TFM to kill larval sea lampreys (Great Lakes Fishery Commission, 2008). The use of TFM has limitations, as it is sometimes harmful to other fish (e.g., walleye) (Becker, 1983), as well as to the larvae of non-parasitic lamprey species, and it is a costly control method.


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Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global Invasive Species Database GISD aims to increase awareness about invasive alien species and to facilitate effective prevention and management. It is managed by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the Species Surviva
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS) source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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Italy: FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome,

Switzerland: IUCN (The World Conservation Union), Rue Mauverney 28, Gland 1196, Gland, Switzerland,

USA: United States Geological Survey, USGS National Center 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 20192,


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19/05/08 Original text by:

Sunil Siriwardena, Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK

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