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Davis, California

Friday, May 24, 2024

New fish species alert!

Researchers at UC Davis have discovered two new species of lamprey fish in California waters


By MARLE LAMOUNTRY— science@theaggie.org


Do you love fish? Well, we do! Researchers at the UC Davis Fish and Wildlife Department have discovered new species of lamprey fish through the use of genetic testing. 

If you’re unfamiliar with lampreys, these jawless creatures have suction-based feeding and vampire-like features, including a diet consisting of blood from nearby fish. They also have prominent migratory behaviors and are often overlooked in research — until now. 

Researchers at the UC Davis Genomic Variation Lab stumbled upon the fish with the help of Pascale Goertler of the Delta Stewardship Council. Researchers in the lab, including Grace Auringer, a UC Davis graduate student, used mitochondrial gene analysis to study their unique inheritance patterns. These patterns helped differentiate the two groups of fish from other populations along the west coast. 

The gene of interest is mitochondrial cytochrome b, which researchers sequenced to find diversity.

Lamprey individuals (N = 87) from 19 sites in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River basin, San Francisco Bay, and Klamath River basin were sequenced for the mitochondrial cytochrome b (cyt b) gene, and the data were combined with publicly available lamprey cyt b sequences for analysis,” the study reads.

The two new species were discovered in the Napa River and Alameda Creek, near the Bay Area. Auringer was surprised by this, as the lampreys managed to swim unnoticed beneath a widely populated area and remained completely concealed until their discovery. 

“Lampreys are understudied, and I wish I had references to understand the patterns I was seeing,” Auringer said. “After colonization, certain fish were considered pests or ‘trash fish.’ Lampreys look like eels and have scary mouths. People judge a fish by its cover and call it bad.” 

Lampreys are viewed as a delicacy in some parts of the world — namely in England, Nordic countries and indigenous populations of North America. In California, lampreys hold a significant historical presence, once serving as a vital food source for indigenous communities as one of their earliest cultural staples. However, these fish populations are now facing a decline.

The scarcity of recorded data on lampreys is a global phenomenon. These ancient creatures have roamed in Earth’s waters for over 300 million years, outlasting the dinosaurs, yet their populations are currently dwindling. Their story reflects narratives seen worldwide, highlighting the urgent need for human stewardship to restore lamprey habitats.


Written by: Marle Lamountry — science@theaggie.org


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