Lamprey species

Three species of lamprey (Pisces:Agnatha:Pteraspidomorphi:Petromyzontiformes) occur in Ireland and the UK. These are the brook lamprey Lampetra planeri, the river lamprey or lampern Lampetra fluviatilis and the sea lamprey Petromyzon marinus. All three British and Irish lamprey species are listed under Annex II of the European Union Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). This directive legally protects each of these species in designated Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) and requires the monitoring and protection of lamprey species coupled with the conservation and maintenance of their preferred habitat.

Adult sea lampreys
Adult sea lampreys

Lampreys are an important element in river ecosystems. The key importance of lampreys is the fact that, together with the hagfishes, they are the sole survivors of the agnathan (jawless) stage in vertebrate evolution. Recent work on fossils in China indicates that lampreys arose over 500 million years ago. Lampreys are of high ecological value and can play an important role in processing nutrients, nutrient storage, and nutrient cycling in streams. Moreover, they also constitute a food source for other animals and can act as a buffer for salmon from predators in areas where they are abundant. It is now understood that they are susceptible to the same threats facing other native freshwater fish (i.e. pollution, barriers to migration, habitat destruction, etc.) and will require careful management and consideration in the future.

Juvenile Lampetra spp lampreys from the River Brown Flesk, Co Kerry
Juvenile Lampetra sp. lampreys from the River Brown Flesk, Co Kerry

A full description of the biology and ecology of the three Lamprey species which occur in Ireland is given in the following key texts and is summarised below:

  • Maitland PS (2003). Ecology of river, brook and sea lamprey. Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers Ecology Series No. 4. English Nature, Peterborough.
  • Kurz, I. and Costello, M.J. 1999 An outline of the biology, distribution and conservation of lampreys in Ireland . F. Marnell (ed.), Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 5.
  • Maitland, P.S. (1980) Review of the ecology of lamprey in Northern Europe. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 37, 1944_/52.

For further information on the three Irish and UK lampreys please click on the links below:-

Also, if you have any queries regarding lampreys or lamprey surveys, or indeed any issue regarding aquatic ecology and fisheries, please do not hesitate to contact us at +353 61 419477.

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