Ichthyomyzon castaneus

chestnut lamprey



Type Locality

Galena, Minnesota (Girard 1858).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Ichthyomyzon, Greek, “sucker of fish”; castaneus, Greek, “of chestnut color.” (Pflieger 1997).



Ichthyomyzon castaneus Girard 1858:381 in C.L. Hubbs and Potter 1971; Suckley 1860 in Smith 1979; Hubbs and Trautman 1937; Cook 1959:44.



Maximum size: 380 mm (15 in) TL (Carlander 1969).


Coloration: Juveniles and adults are dark gray to brown along the back, becoming lighter on the belly. The sides may be mottled or slate colored. After spawning the coloration is bluish black. Ammocoetes are gray along the back with lighter undersides; usually have pigmentation under the eyes and in front of the gill region. The lateral line pores are generally unpigmented in the ammocoetes, juveniles, and adults, but are dark on large individuals (Ross 2001).


Counts: 51-54 (47-56) myomeres; 2-3 (1-4) supraoral cusps; 6-11 infraoral cusps; 3-5 anterior teeth, and 6-9 (6-11) lateral teeth (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Eel-like.  Individuals in the southern portion of the range have smaller eyes, longer snout and thinner bodies than those in the northern portion of the range (Knapp 1951).


Mouth position: Subterminal in both ammocoete and adult (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Morphology: Mouth disc large; length of disc contained 14.3 times in total length; cusps in posterior field not degenerate (Hubbs et al. 1991).  Inner lateral (circumoral) teeth are bicuspid (Ross 2001).  Dorsal fin continuous, except for a small notch; dorsal fin height increases after metamorphosis. Mature males develop an elongate urogenital papilla (Ross 2001).

Adults with well developed intestine (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: West central Manitoba along Red River to the North, and in the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes southward to Mobile Bay (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: East Texas streams of the Red, Sabine, and Neches basins (Hubbs et al.1991; Warren et al. 2000).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, Non-governmental organizations)

Not listed as threatened or endangered by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

(2006). Populations in the southern United States are currently secure (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Adults usually encountered in large reservoirs and rivers, generally not found in smaller streams characteristic of the ammocoete stage (Rohde and Lanteigne-Courechene 1980; Scott and Crossman 1973). Ammocoetes live in streams (Carlander 1969).


Mesohabitat: Ammocoetes stay in swifter water in fine substrata, as well as in slower water with vegetation  (Scott and Crossman 1973).



Spawning season: In Tennessee, occurs in early May (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Spawning habitat: Lithophils; rock and gravel spawners that do not guard their eggs. Large eggs are buried in gravel depressions called redds or in rock interstitial spaces (Simon 1999).


Reproductive strategy: Non-guarders; brood hiders (Simon 1999). Build nests in gravel areas of streams and die shortly after spawning (Carlander 1969). Spawning occurs in large communal aggregations of up to 50 individuals (Ross 2001). The spawning lampreys excavated a nest area 600 mm (23.6 in) wide by 1000 mm (36 in) long, and 50 mm (2.0 in) deep. While some lampreys engaged in spawning, others moved stones from the upstream side of the nest, so the over the course of about 22 hours the nest area including newly excavated and filled extended 6.2 m (6.8 yd) upstream from the original site (Case 1970).


Fecundity: A 284 mm (11 in) female from Oklahoma reported to contain 42,000 eggs (Hall and Moore 1954). Fecundity increases with adult size ranging from 10,144 to 18,563 oocytes; mature ovarian oocytes average 1.34 mm (.05 in) in diameter (Beamish and Thomas 1983).


Age at maturation: Ovaries begin to show development in ammocoetes larger than 88 mm (3.5 in) TL (Beamish and Thomas 1983).


Migration: Most adults migrate to lakes, oceans, or large rivers (Carlander 1969).


Growth and population structure: Postmetomorphosis juveniles may be less than 100 mm (4 in) TL; adults range between 105-310 mm (4-12 in) TL (Ross 2001). In May, lampreys averaged 104 (4 in) mm and 1.8 g; in October, 201 mm (8 in) and 9.1 g (Carlander 1969). Ammocoetes metamorphose into predaceous juveniles between 100-130 mm (4-5 in) TL and at 5-7 years (Hardisty and Potter 1971). Juvenile stage lasts from less than a year to 1.5 years (Hall 1963).


Longevity: Adults, in Michigan, reported to live 18 months, but to feed actively for only 5 months (Carlander 1969).


Food habits: Ammocoetes are herbivorous filter feeders consuming minute organic particles (diatoms and desmids) for several years prior to metamorphosing into adults. Adults are parasitic carnivores, feeding on the blood of other fish by attaching themselves with a sucking disc and rasping a hole with their horny plated tongue (Carlander 1969; Goldstein and Simon 1999). Host species include chain pickerel, common carp, blacktail redhorse, channel catfish, green sunfish, and largemouth bass (Hall and Moore 1954; Farmer 1980; Mayden et al. 1989). Cook (1959) also reported it on catfish, buffalos, and paddlefish. Recent studies showed them feeding on smaller fishes (130-150 mm, 5-6 in TL). Small fish are more common upstream where lamprey metamorphosis into the adult stage occurs, and their scale and skin layers allow easier penetration by the smaller lampreys (Cochran and Jenkins 1994).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Icthyomyzon castaneus is thought to be derived from the silver lamprey, I. unicuspis (Hubbs and Potter 1971).

Icthyomyzon castaneus is most similar to the southern brook lamprey (I. gagei).  Icthyomyzon castaneus can be distinguished in adult form by the presence of well developed teeth in the oral disk (versus poorly developed teeth in I. gagei), by the oral disk being wider than the head, and by the functional digestive tract (Ross 2001).


Host Records

No information at this time.


Commercial or Environmental Importance

No information at this time.



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Case, B. 1970. Spawning behavior of the chestnut lamprey Ichthyomyzon castaneus. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Can. 27:1872-1874.

Cochran, P.A., and R.E. Jenkins. 1994. Small fishes as hosts for parasitic lampreys. Copeia 1994(2): 499-504.

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson.

Farmer, G.J. 1980. Biology and physiology of feeding in adult lampreys. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 37:1751-1761.

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