The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) stated on Wednesday that it received a large amount of calls from Fairbanks residents regarding “eel-like creatures” falling from the sky. At least four specimens of Arctic lamprey have been found across the area, including in a parking lot, a restaurant, and lawns. Lampreys are a species of jawless fish that prefers freshwater habitats near the coast—and they certainly did not grow wings and fly into Fairbanks. So how are these strange, blood-sucking fish ending up on land?
“The answer is probably gulls,” the ADFG speculated on Facebook. “Gulls are picking them out of the Chena River with their bills and then dropping the squirming critters while in flight. Arctic lampreys spawn in the Chena River, and live in the mud underwater as juveniles for several years. However, many lifelong Alaskans have never seen one of these fascinating fish up close because their body shape and feeding habits make them difficult to catch.”
Arctic lampreys, unlike the Atlantic species spreading throughout the Great Lakes, are not considered invasive and can be found across Alaska’s rivers and tributaries. They can grow up to about 12 inches long and live off the blood of fish such as salmon, lake trout, and whitefish. Despite how they may look and their rather morbid feeding habit, lampreys are edible and is especially valued in European and Japanese cuisine. It is also used as bait.
Image courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game