Hard to believe such a beautiful lake could be home to such an ugly creature. Scientists long believed sea lamprey were an invasive species-- that the parasite came to Lake Champlain from someplace else, attacking the native fish population. But now scientists think this lake is in fact the lampreys' home sweet home.
"Instead of invasive, we would recategorize them as a nuisance species," explains fisheries biologist Brad Young.
Young supervises Lake Champlain's lamprey control program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says he's not surprised by the discovery.
"It really doesn't do a whole lot as far as management goes. What's more interesting is helping us understand why a native species is now at a nuisance level."
Scientists at Michigan State University compared genes of lamprey in different lakes. They found the lamprey in Lake Champlain are significantly different genetically from populations in the other lakes. That means they evolved separately over time and they haven't had any contact with populations in other lakes.
"We accept good science and we believe this is good science," says Young. "The finding of them being native just forces us to reconsider what options are available, what better way to manage the lake."
One thing won't change-- scientists still want to control the lamprey population in Lake Champlain, continuing programs such as using chemicals to kill their larvae. Just because they are natives doesn't mean they aren't pests.
"We're still going to assess all the tributaries in the basin, find out where lamprey are located, monitor population and continue to control lamprey populations."
Sea lamprey didn't become a problem in Lake Champlain until the 1980s. There are a lot of theories as to why a species that could peacefully coexist for thousands of years would suddenly become such a problem. One is that we were stocking fish in the lake that weren't used to living with lamprey. Another theory is that the habitat changed-- the water quality improved, so the lamprey population grew stronger.