Jawless Fish

Pacific lamprey at the Oregon Zoo. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham.

PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – After surviving three ice ages and five mass extinctions, an ancient species of fish with a third eye and rings of sharp teeth is finding a new home at the Oregon Zoo.

The five Pacific lamprey now living in the zoo’s Cascade Stream building come from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. They aren’t your typical cuddly creatures, but they have a lot of heart, Shelly Pettit, the zoo’s senior fish keeper, says.

“Lamprey have a lot of charm once you get to know them,” Pettit said. “We’ve been saying ‘the cuteness is coming’ to get visitors ready to meet these fish. The cuteness is here now, and it’s been really fun to introduce people to a different type of adorable animal.”

The eel-like fish has a jawless mouth, a third eye, and no scales. The zoo says their numbers have declined in the past 70 years due to a combination of habitat loss, climate change and lack of food, including in their native ranges in the Pacific Northwest.

The "third eye" is not a true eye, but is used by lamprey to sense light and dark. 

The fish is now designated as a Species of Concern by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and by Oregon's and Washington's Departments of Fish & Wildlife.

The zoo says when the fish are ready to spawn, the tribal team will transport them to their original range on tributaries of the upper Columbia River and the Snake River.

The zoo's new lamprey habitat was paid for in part by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 

Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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