The Hated, Invasive Parasite That’s Actually a Key Part of Its Ecosystem – Facts So Romantic

Sea lampreys showing off their unusual mouthsJoanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Several years ago, a young man bow-fishing on New Jersey’s Raritan river spotted a long, thin creature in the murky water. He shot the animal through the neck, reeled it in, and posed for photographs. Eventually a friend posted one to Reddit. Within days it went viral, viewed 1.4 million times and setting the internet ablaze with mystery-monster speculation. “Terrifying Sea Monster Found in New Jersey River,” headlined Gawker. The New York Daily News likened the “large, unidentified creature” to “a scene from a sci-fi film.” Some people insisted it was all a hoax.

The creature was, in fact, a common fish called a sea lamprey. The lamprey is admittedly unusual in appearance, with a boneless eel-like body and jawless tooth-ringed mouth, and unusually grotesque when blood-slicked and impaled on a stake. But they’re also well-known residents of coastal waterways throughout eastern North America—which, to be fair, quite a few people pointed out. Yet that there was so much uncertainty, much less Sea Monster!-level horror, reflected the strange mix of ignorance and distortion through which sea lampreys are perceived.

Indeed, in certain circles, there’s no fish more…

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