Monday, March 11, 2013

Ring the Bell, Pacific Lamprey are in School!

School?  For lamprey?  That’s right.  Pacific lamprey are now in local schools.  They don’t take the bus every day.  They don’t have math homework at night.  They don’t take tests and they don’t get sent to the principal’s office.  Rather, they are there to help teach as many students as possible, young and old, what makes this fish unique.  Given that lamprey have been around for at least 360 million years, it makes sense that humans (who have only been around for about 100 thousand years) can probably learn a thing or two from them!

We’ve been fortunate to be involved in an outreach program established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sean Connolly to get “Lamprey in the Classroom.” This program involves setting up an aquarium in a classroom, collecting a few lamprey from local streams, and placing them into the aquarium for the students to observe and learn from.

Lamprey have a complex life history.  For example, Pacific lamprey embryos hatch in freshwater tributaries.  The resulting larvae—known as ammocoetes—do not have eyes, spend much of their time burrowed in sediment, and feed by filtering water.  Sometime in the next 3-7 years they go through a transformation (metamorphosis) into juveniles, called macropthalmia.  Juveniles have eyes and teeth to help with feeding when they eventually head out to the ocean.  After a period at sea, the lamprey transform again into fully mature adults, return to a freshwater tributary to spawn (after which, adults die), and start the cycle once again.  You can learn more about this life history, and improve your coloring skills, by clicking HERE.

The Lamprey in the Classroom project has helped bring larval lamprey into two Portland (OR) and Vancouver (WA) metro area schools.  Middle and high school students are observing and caring for the fish in their ammocoete (larval) life history stage, when lamprey don’t have eyes and feed by filtering water.  Students can observe, study, and wonder why they can never find the larvae, set up cameras to try and catch glimpses of the elusive critters, and ask really cool questions about this ancient species.  Pretty much how all great scientists get started, right?  Hmmm … so all this observation got students at David Douglas High School and Pacific Middle School thinking … “How should we feed these lamprey so that they will stay alive and grow?”  GREAT QUESTION! 
Right now, there are a lot of biologists from tribal, state and federal agencies as well as colleges and universities asking the same thing.  Many folks are wondering if we an bring some lamprey into captivity to help conserve the species.  Although we know we can keep them alive for at least 2 years, we still need to know (or learn) how to get them to grow well.  Fortunately, we have also been able to work projects to help understand what and how to feed these larvae.  The most common food used to feed larval lamprey in captivity has been yeast (that’s right, the same stuff you might use for baking bread).  Although yeast seems to work perfectly fine in some cases, researchers are starting to explore other possibilities for feeding the larvae.  As part of the Lamprey in the Classroom project, some of our research results have been able to provide students with information on what and how to feed larval lamprey. 

 What seems pretty certain is that - while students might want to consider bringing an apple for their teacher - for now, it would probably be better to bring something like yeast for their lamprey.

Submitted by: Tim Whitesel, Sean Connolly and Marci Koski
Photos by Jane Chorazy

1 comment:

  1. Nice job you guys! Makes me want to go to school with the lamprey again! Will you talk about their shocking blue eyes in another blog post....pulease?