Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blood-Sucking Freaks

It seems appropriate to follow up my last post with some information on the sea lamprey, one of nature's most horrifying parasites.

That's a lamprey on the left, smiling big for the camera.

A little background: The lamprey is native to the Atlantic coasts of North America, Europe and the Mediterranean, but has since migrated into all five of the Great Lakes, where it's responsible for destroying large populations of indigenous fish.

Its life cycle is comparable to its bizarre appearance. Young are born in inland rivers, emerging from eggs blind and toothless. They burrow into the mud for 3-17 years, filter-feeding on muck and carrion. When they reach their adult form -- which can be as large as 36 inches -- they migrate to the sea or another large body of water. There, they get down to the business of latching onto larger fish, burrowing into their flesh, and sucking blood from their victims until they die from blood loss or infection.

All in all, not one of God's most charming creatures or something you're likely to run across on

Biologists are searching for an effective lampricide, but have yet to come up with something that doesn't also kill off other species. In 1996 the University of Minnesota demonstrated a creative but unfortunate approach to problem solving when it looked into ways that lampreys could be prepared and served as seafood. Chef Bob Bennet, of Bennets Bar & Grill in Duluth, Minnesota, devised a number of dishes including Lamprey Stew & Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Arroz de Lampreia (lamprey rice).

Intrepid taste testers said the lamprey dishes tasted pretty good. However, researchers later discovered that the lamprey's super-predator position in the food chain caused them to become repositories for contaminating chemicals from the very fish they fed on. While this was an unfortunate development in the control of lampreys, it was definitely a boon to diners the world over.

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