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article imageAlaskans are seeing 'flesh-eating fish' falling from the sky

By Karen Graham     Jun 10, 2015 in Environment
Fairbanks - At least four Fairbanks residents called the Alaska Department of Fish and Game this past week reporting some rather strange sightings. Lamprey eels were falling out of the sky, leaving some people to wonder if this was a new weather phenomenon.
A number of foot-long lamprey eels have fallen out of the sky recently in and around Fairbanks, Alaska, prompting several phone calls to the Department of Fish and Game. The toothy, snake-like fish are scary enough to look at, and worrying about one of them falling on you is a little unnerving.
"The local Value Village store found a live lamprey in their parking lot," ADF&G reported on its Facebook page. "Another resident called and said he found one on his lawn!"
News sites have had a lot of fun with the story, with headlines screaming "Terrifying 'vampire fish' falling from the sky in Alaska," to the UK's Mirror asking, "Why are giant toothed 'vampire fish' falling from the sky."
The lamprey is an ancient fish
But all kidding aside, there is a reasonable explanation for the unusual incidents. First of all, they are not giant vampire fish. The four or five found on dry land were about one-foot to 15-inches long. Secondly, the lamprey is a jawless fish belonging to the order Petromyzontiformes.
Lampreys do not have scales and don't have paired fins like other fish. As adults, some lampreys feed on their prey by attaching their mouthparts to the target animal's body.They use their teeth to cut through surface tissues until they reach blood and body fluid. Non-parasitic lampreys, usually freshwater fish, do not feed at all, as adults.
Lampreys attached to a lake trout
Lampreys attached to a lake trout
These interesting fish are a very ancient lineage of vertebrates, and there are only 38 species known today. More surprising is that only 18 species are considered to be parasitic, sucking the blood from other fish. The word "lamprey" is from the Latin, meaning "stone-licker."
Alaska Fish and Game has a ready explanation for the lampreys ending up on sidewalks and people's lawns. It's seagulls! On the ADF&G Facebook page, they say: "They’re dropped from the air by seagulls. Seagulls can often be seen feeding on lampreys and small fish in and over the water, but they don’t always eat their prey on the spot. Sometimes they fly away with their marine lunch in their beaks, and on occasion the birds will accidentally drop their meal before it’s consumed."
This is obviously the logical reason for the incidents. Christy Sommerville, a resident in Fairbanks posted this message on the ADF&G page: "I'm in Fairbanks and went on a walk the other day and saw a seagull swimming down the river with a huge one in its mouth. Took a long time to fly off with it. Very squirmy and heavy."
This picture clearly shows the seven gill slits  found on each side of the lamprey. The eyes are lar...
This picture clearly shows the seven gill slits, found on each side of the lamprey. The eyes are large and set on top of the head.
Lampreys as food
Lampreys have been used for food since ancient times. The Romans found them to be a delicacy, and in the Middle Ages, the middle and upper classes throughout Europe dined on them. At one time, long ago, lampreys were so prolific they were actually found in Britain as far up the River Thames as Petersham, according to the BBC.
As a historical aside, and citing the BBC, on 4 March 1953, Queen Elizabeth II's coronation pie was made by the Royal Air Force using lampreys.
More about arctic lamprey, Alaska, Seagulls, department of fish and game, Eels
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