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Blood-sucking lamprey is 360 million years old

Blood-sucking lamprey is 360 million years old

Blood-sucking lamprey is 360 million years old
October 25, 2006

The parasitic blood-sucking lamprey has remained unchanged for 360 million years according to research to be published in the Oct. 26, 2006 issue of the jounral Nature.

The discovery of a well-preserved fossil lamprey dating from the Devonian period in an ancient estuary in Grahamstown, South Africa shows that the lamprey is truly a “living fossil”.

The mouth of a Sea Lamprey, showing teeth and tongue. Courtesy of NOAA

“Apart from being the oldest fossil lamprey yet discovered, this fossil shows that lampreys have been parasitic for at least 360 million years,” said Dr. Bruce Rubidge, director of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“This fossil changes how we look at lampreys today,” said Dr. Michael Coates, associate professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago. “They’re very ancient, very primitive animals, yet with highly specialized feeding habits.”

Lampreys are primitive fish found primarily in temperate rivers and coastal seas — their larvae do not survive high water temperatures. Superficially resembling eels, adult lampreys can reach 40 inches (100 cm). Lampreys are known for the toothed, funnel-like mouth which they use to bore into fish to suck their blood.

This article is based on a news release from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

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