Northern brook lamprey are found in many areas of the midwestern and northeastern United States, including the Mississippi River drainage in Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois, and northern Indiana, and in parts of Canada. They are also found in a Lake Erie tributary in New York and certain tributaries of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Range extends from the St. Lawrence River, Quebec, west through Great Lakes and northern Mississippi River basins to Red River (Hudson Bay basin), southern Manitoba; localized in Ohio River basin from northwestern Pennsylvania to eastern Kentucky; Missouri River basin, Ozark Uplands, Missouri (Pflieger 1997, Page and Burr 2011)
Northern brook lamprey appear very similar throughout their life cycle. This species has a continuous dorsal fin that may or may not be divided by a small notch and is connected to a round, short caudal fin. Individuals are grayish brown dorsally with a pale median line down the back and a lighter ventral side, with the posterior end darker in color (almost black). There are a few differences between ammocoetes and adults: ammocoetes have neither eyes nor a sucking disk mouth (they have a hooded mouth instead). Adults have eyes and disk-shaped mouths with small, poorly developed teeth. Once adults are of breeding age it is possible to differentiate between the sexes (males have a urogenital papilla and females have an enlarged post-anal fold).
Average mass: 2.2 g.
Average length: 16 cm.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: female larger
Length: 16 cm
The habitat of northern brook lamprey varies throughout the life cycle. Adults are generally found in areas of rapidly flowing water above a very coarse bed, spawning and then laying eggs in crevices beneath rocks and boulders. Ammocoetes (larvae) are generally found in the the calmer waters of brook, stream and river side channels where there is fine sediment or organic debris in which to burrow.
Range depth: 0.7 (low) m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; freshwater
Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams
Habitat and Ecology
Habitat Type: Freshwater
Comments: Habitat includes clean, clear gravel riffles and runs of small rivers (Page and Burr 2011); this species usually does not occur in large rivers or small brooks. Usually it occurs over gravel or sand-silt bottoms in moderately warm water, generally unsuitable for brook trout (Becker 1983). Larvae burrow into sand-silt bottoms in eddies. Spawning occurs in coarse gravelly or stony bottoms of creeks or small rivers in areas of strong current.
Depth range (m): 0.2 - 1
Depth range (m): 0.2 - 1
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Northern brook lamprey only feed as ammocoetes. During this time, they feed mainly on organic detrius, diatoms, desmids, protozoans, algae and pollen.
Plant Foods: pollen; algae
Other Foods: detritus ; microbes
Foraging Behavior: filter-feeding
Primary Diet: herbivore (Algivore); detritivore
Comments: Adults and possibly the larger larvae do not feed. Larvae filter feed on microscopic organisms (diatoms, algae, etc.).
Although morthern brook lamprey often share habitat with mayfly nymphs and small mussels, there is little evidence that there is any competition amongst these species. Unlike many lamprey species, this species is non-parasitic. There is currently no research available regarding parasites of northern brook lamprey.
This species is prey for many larger fish throughout its life. While eggs and ammocoetes are particularly vulnerable, adults may be consumed as well. Known predators include rainbow trout, rock bass and brown trout.
- Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
- Rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris)
- Brown trout (Salmo trutta)
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 21 - 300
Comments: This species is represented by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations). Becker (1983) mapped several dozen collection sites in Wisconsin, representing probably a few dozen distinct occurrences; he stated that the species is probably more widely distributed than present records indicate. Pflieger (1997) mapped 18 collection sites (1945-1995) in three well-isolated river systems in Missouri; he stated that due to identification problems with larvae, the species may be more widely distributed that available records suggest. Burr and Warren (1986) mapped 18 collection sites in several drainages Kentucky; these represent probably about a dozen distinct occurrences, but the species was rated as threatened there. Smith (1979) mapped three collection sites in Illinois all in one river.
10,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but presumably exceeds 10,000. Rage-wide, this species is locally common (Page and Burr 2011); occasional and uncommon in Kentucky (Burr and Warren 1986); common in at least two river systems in Wisconsin (Becker 1983).
Life History and Behavior
Although ammocoetes are blind, adult Northern brook lamprey have small eyes. This species also has a lateral line through which the fish may sense vibrations.
Communication Channels: tactile ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; vibrations ; chemical
Northern brook lamprey have two developmental stages: ammocoete (larval) and adult. Larvae hatch approximately 2 weeks after egg fertilization and drift downstream before burrowing into the substrate. Once settled in burrows, larvae feed on suspended algae, bacteria and other detrius for 5-6 years until they metamorphose into non-feeding juveniles, typically in the fall. The transformation process lasts for 2-3 months. Juveniles spend 4-6 months drifting until spring, when spawning occurs and they become sexually mature adults. Adults die shortly after spawning.
Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis
Northern brook lamprey typically live for 5-8 years in the wild, dying within a few days of reaching sexual maturity and completing mating. There is no data available regarding captive lifespan.
Status: wild: 7 years.
Status: wild: 5 to 8 years.
During mating, 3-7 northern brook lamprey will build a nest together and spawn in groups of 10-30. Once eggs are fertilized and laid they are often covered with the substrate surrounding the nest.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Northern brook lamprey spawn in the spring at approximately 6 years of age, just after reaching sexual maturity. Females lay thousands of eggs, possibly due to high mortality rates during the early stages of the species' life cycle. Eggs hatch 2-4 weeks after fertilization.
Spawning is initiated when water temperatures are between 13 and 20.5°C. Males begin nest building by moving stones and gravel to create a small dip in the substrate within shallow, pool-riffle, high-gradient stretches of streams.
During spawning, these lampreys coil together in groups of 3 to 7 individuals before going into the nest. Once in the nest a male attaches to, but does not wrap around, a female (as in some other lamprey species) to complete egg fertilization. Adults then leave the nest and die soon thereafter.
Breeding interval: Northern brook lamprey spawn once during their lifetimes.
Breeding season: Spring
Range number of offspring: 1,115 to 1,979.
Average number of offspring: 1,200.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 5 to 7 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 to 7 years.
Key Reproductive Features: semelparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (External ); oviparous
There is no parental investment by adults of this species as they die soon after egg fertilization.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement
Spawns in late spring. Eggs hatch in about 12 days. Larval stage lasts about 3-6 years. Metamorphosis occurs in late summer. Adults overwinter, spawn the following spring, die after undetermined time thereafter (Becker 1983).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Ichthyomyzon fossor
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ichthyomyzon fossor
Public Records: 16
Specimens with Barcodes: 16
Species With Barcodes: 1
The Minnesota DNR lists northern brook lamprey as a species of special concern. In order to keep game fish populations high and parasitic sea lamprey populations low, a lampricide treatment is put into streams and rivers where many lamprey, including non-parasitic northern brook lamprey, reside. This lampricide, among other poisons and pollutants, is adversely affecting population size. There is not currently a direct management/conservation plan in place for this species.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.
Total adult population size is unknown but presumably exceeds 10,000. Rage-wide, this species is locally common (Page and Burr 2011); occasional and uncommon in Kentucky (Burr and Warren 1986); common in at least two river systems in Wisconsin (Becker 1983).
Trend over the past 10 years or three generations is uncertain but probably relatively stable or slowly declining.
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%
Comments: Trend over the past 10 years or three generations is uncertain but probably relatively stable or slowly declining.
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 50-70%
Degree of Threat: Medium
Comments: No major threats are known, but the species is vulnerable to local extirpation through indiscriminant use of fish toxicants (Becker 1983).
Global Protection: Unknown whether any occurrences are appropriately protected and managed
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of northern brook lamprey on humans.
Although there is little known positive impact of northern brook lamprey on humans, fishermen do occasionally use this species as bait
Northern Brook lamprey
Adults spawn in the spring in the headwaters of streams. The males (aided by females) construct small nests by picking up pebbles with their mouths and moving them to form the rims of shallow depressions. The sticky eggs are deposited in the nest and adhere to the sand and gravel. Multiple adults may spawn in the same nest, and multiple males may spawn with the same female. As with all lamprey adults die after spawning.
When they first hatch embryos remain in the nest for up to one month before they mature into ammocoetes. Ammocoetes leave the nest and seek out slow flowing sandy areas, where they burrow and begin feeding. Ammocoetes live burrowed for 3-7 years, feeding on microscopic plant and animal life and detritus (decaying matter). Mature ammocoetes will begin to metamorphosis in the late summer through the fall.
- Reighard and Cummins, Description of a new species of lamprey of the genus Ichthyomyzon, 1916
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Ichthyomyzon fossor and I. unicuspis may "represent ecotypes of a single species since, where they are sympatric, they appear to be experiencing ongoing gene flow" (Docker et al. 2012; see also Docker 2009).