Full-Grown ‘Vampire Fish’ Spotted in the American River

Photo of a lamprey fish on the Feather River. Photo taken by the California Department of Water Resources in 2017.

The American River is a place where you’ll find plenty of rafters, fishermen and swimmers on a hot summer day. Now, you might also spot a “vampire fish” while on your relaxing day on the river.

Lampreys are a parasitic type of fish that look like eels and latch onto to their prey with a round, sucker-like mouth. Their blood-sucking lifestyle has earned them the vampire nickname and they can sometimes be found in Northern California waterways.

A video was recently posted on social media showing a lamprey in the American River below the Folsom Dam, a rare sight for a river full of fish:

“I haven’t seen a Live Full Grown Lamprey in Decades in the American River,” said Karl Bly, who runs the popular American River Lost & Found Facebook page. “I’ve had sporadic sightings of babies. None more than 5 inches long and a few years ago I found half of a full grown but dead lamprey. But this is the first full 24 inch lamprey that I’ve seen since like the 1970’s.”

The fish have life cycles similar to salmon, with juveniles journeying to the Pacific Ocean and attaching to a host fish for several years. They will eventually return to their spawning grounds in the spring to spawn and die. This sighting is certainly rare for a NorCal waterway, but not unprecedented. Lamprey have been seen near the Feather River Hatchery near the Oroville Dam during wet years.

Lamprey latched onto a fish found on the Feather River

While this may seem like a terrifying development on the popular river, they are quite harmless to humans.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about if you go wading or swimming in the river,” said Jana Frazier, employee of California Department of Water Resources, when the fish were seen on the Feather River.

There have been no other sightings recently on Northern California waterways, but that doesn’t mean lamprey aren’t in the water. With this recent sighting, will you keep a closer eye on the water below you on the American River?

Active NorCal

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