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Scientists find lamprey a 'living fossil'

d [true] teeth, they never had fins, they never had limbs. Lampreys provide a glimpse of conditions early in vertebrate evolutionary history."

Because lampreys do not have bone or any substantial cartilage, they are extremely rare as fossils. This fossil not only reveals a nearly complete soft tissue impression, but it also pushes back their fossil record another 35 million years.

"These are pretty insubstantial animals," Coates said. "Lacking a boney skeleton, they rot down, leaving no hard parts, like a skull or ribs. So if a fossil site is discovered that yields impressions of the delicate remains of these animals, then this site needs to be explored thoroughly for other examples of exceptional preservation."

The scientists will continue to sort through much of the indeterminate material that is emerging from the ongoing dig.

Nearly 50 species of lampreys are found today in temperate rivers and coastal seas. Some species live in fresh water for their entire lives, but most are anadromous, hatching in fresh water, migrating to the ocean to grow and mature, and migrating back to fresh water to spawn and reproduce.

When adult lampreys return to fresh water, they stop feeding during winter and spawn the following spring. Eggs hatch after approximately three weeks and become blind larvae, called ammocoetes. After four to seven years, the ammocoetes metamorphose into juvenile lampreys called macropthalmia, which migrate out to the ocean and become parasitic adult lampreys, living just a year or two and growing up to 2 feet long.

Abundant in the Northeast United States, lampreys have a sucker-like mouth with a ring of cartilage that supports the rim of the mouth. It fastens on to a living fish with its teeth, rasps at the host's soft tissues with its piston-like tongue, produces strands of mucus to trap the food and feeds on the body fluids. A fish attacked by lampreys may be severely injured or even killed.


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Contact: Catherine Gianaro
catherine.gianaro@uchospitals.edu
773-702-6241
University of Chicago Medical Center
25-Oct-2006


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