Sea Lamprey

VIMS Fish CollectionThe sea lamprey Petromyzon marinus.

Catalog Number: VIMS 06066
Length: 143 mm (5.6 inches)
Collection Locality: Norfolk Canyon
Accession Date: 1976

Adults of the Sea Lamprey Petromyzon marinus (Linnaeus, 1758) are parasites that attach to a variety of fishes and marine mammals by means of their sucker-like mouth. Once attached, they open wounds with a rasping tongue and sharp teeth to feed on blood and other bodily tissues. The sea lamprey is a potential threat to recreationally and commercially important species in Chesapeake Bay, although it isn't present in sufficient numbers to be a major destructive force. Invasion of the Great Lakes by the sea lamprey decimated stocks of lake trout and other important species; restocking and widespread application of lamprey-specific pesticides are now used to manage this problem.


A suctorial mouth with teeth arranged in concentric circles; dorsal fin with notch; pectoral and pelvic fins absent; eye of moderate size; gill openings represented by 7 small lateral clefts. Color is brown with black mottling present dorsally; whitish or gray ventrally. Maximum size is 84 cm. (2.8 ft.)

Ventral view of a sea lamprey's sucking mouthparts.

Adult lampreys are parasitic on a large variety of fishes and marine mammals and seek the largest individuals of a species.  They attach using a suctorial mouth which has pointed teeth arranged in concentric circles.  Once attached, the lamprey opens wounds on the prey's skin using a rasping tongue and sharp teeth and feeds on blood and other bodily tissue.  Smaller sea lampreys are bottom dwellers along coasts and on the continental shelf.


Inhabits northern Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America (from Labrador to Florida in the western Atlantic).  It is also native to Lake Ontario.


This anadromous species ascends freshwaters in Maryland and Virginia from March to June to locate suitable spawning grounds, where the female deposits eggs in nests created by male lampreys.  Adults die soon after this spawning event. 


Murdy, E.O., R.S. Birdsong, and J.A. Musick. 1997. Fishes of Chesapeake Bay.Smithsonian Institution Press, 324 pp.