Besides being used to make traditional lamprey pie for Queen Elizabeth II, invasive eel-like sea lampreys are otherwise an unwanted species in the Great Lakes.
A recent discovery by Warren Green, a University of Windsor PhD student, may help Lake Huron get rid of these parasitic creatures.
Green says his three-year study that led to the discovery of how lampreys process olfactory information may help enhance current odour-based trapping strategies.
“Right now, sex pheromones are put into a trap to get migrating or spawning lamprey into a trap, so it’s an effective method,” says Green. “With my work, we can actually try and improve this by making an ultimate cocktail.”
By knowing what odours lampreys are most attracted to, Green says it could make the current pheromone-based trapping strategy even more effective.
The species moved into the Great Lakes in the early 20th century and have been decimating lake trout and whitefish stocks, particularly in Lake Huron. Often described as “vampires of the sea,” they suck body fluids and blood from fish and often prey on commercial fish.
Green’s study is an extension of his academic supervisor Professor Barbara Zielinski’s work, which found a pathway that links the sense of smell to the locomotive circuit in lampreys’ brains. That circuit, the medial region in the olfactory bulb, allows them to smell something and move towards or away from that odour.
Taking it a step further, Green wanted to find out the properties in the olfactory bulb driving the mechanism.
Green is now preparing to publish his work in the next few months and present it to the fishery commission who would make the ultimate decision on whether it is a viable method to incorporate into their current lamprey control program.
Whether it’s used or not, Green, who won first place for the best oral presentation last month at the 10th International Congress on the Biology of Fish in Madison, Wisconsin, says it’s been an exciting ride.
“It was exciting because you realize you found something very unique that you’ve not read about before that people haven’t really talked about before, you might have a thought that this was possible in the beginning, that the pathway does exist and may respond to all these odours, but you really have no idea,” he said.