‘Different kind of adorable animal’: Pacific lamprey return to Oregon Zoo

Pacific lamprey have returned to the Oregon Zoo’s Great Northwest area.
Pacific lamprey have returned to the Oregon Zoo’s Great Northwest area.(Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.)
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 11:42 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - An ancient, eel-like fish will have a temporary home in the Oregon Zoo’s Great Northwest area.

The Pacific lamprey, which is one of the oldest species in the Pacific Northwest, returned to the zoo this month. The zoo says the 400-million-year-old fish predates dinosaurs and even trees.

“We’re thrilled to welcome lamprey back,” said Sara Morgan, senior keeper for the zoo’s northwest area. “It’s a great way for people to see this ancient and unique species up close and learn more about their history.”

Visitors will be able to see the lamprey in the Cascade stream and pond section of the Great Northwest area through the winter. They will be transported to tributaries of the upper Columbia and Snake rivers once they’re ready to spawn.

The zoo says lamprey can often be seen suctioned onto the glass of their habitat windows, showcasing sucker-like mouths and concentric rings of sharp yellow teeth — all part of the fish’s remarkable nontraditional “cuteness.”

“When you say the word ‘cute,’ lamprey are not what most people might picture,” Morgan said. “But once you get to know them, they have a lot of charm. It’s been fun introducing folks to a different kind of adorable animal.”

The lamprey has survived three ice ages and five mass extinctions, but the zoo says populations have declined in the past 75 years due to habitat loss, climate change and food scarcity. They are now considered a species of concern by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services as well as the Oregon and Washington state fish and wildlife agencies.