The past week in Fairbanks, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game received a number of phone calls saying Arctic lampreys are dropping from the sky.
According to a post on its Facebook page, the ADF&G said that lampreys are being discovered in strange locations. Four have been found so far on land, with one alive as it was rescued from the parking lot of a local Value Village store.
"Two gentleman came in and asked if we have a bucket with water because there's an eel in your parking lot," recounted Sue Valdrow, the store's owner. The lamprey they found was about a foot long. After placing the fish in a container with water, Valdrow called wildlife officials.
It is not clear how the lampreys found themselves so far away from water but the ADF&G believe it's probably the doing of gulls.
"Gulls are picking them out of the Chena River with their bills and then dropping the squirming critters while in flight," explained the department.
Mike Taras from the ADF&G supported the gull theory by pointing out markings on the lampreys that were found. First, they have holes on both sides that look like they could have been made by the bird. The lampreys' bodies also feature cut marks and bruises, evidence that they have been squeezed between gull bills.
Arctic lampreys normally thrive in the Chena River, living out their juvenile years in the mud underwater. They are anadromous, which means the lamprey spends part of its life in the ocean and part of its life in fresh water. They swim downstream to the ocean after reaching adulthood, then near the end of their lives swim back upstream, where they spawn and die soon afterward. They are fish but look more like eels, featuring body shapes that make them hard to catch. They are also parasitic, clinging to other fish for sustenance. While they are young, though, they feed on microorganisms and algae.
Though native to Alaska, Arctic lampreys are not commonly seen. In fact, many of those who have lived all their lives in Alaska have not encountered one. There remains a lot to be learned about Arctic lampreys, so anyone who spots one is being encouraged to call the ADF&G. They are unlike sea lampreys, which were accidentally introduced into the Great Lakes.
There are different kinds of lampreys in Alaska. To distinguish Arctic lampreys from Pacific lamprey, look for two large teeth on the fish's supraoral bar. There will also be a row of posterial teeth present. To separate females from males, look at their anal fins. Females will have larger ones than the males.