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Whose Kids Did You Eat? Genetic Identification of Species and Parents of Larval Lampreys in Fish Predator Guts

Jul 26, 2021


The Pacific Lamprey Entosphenus tridentatus is an important species both ecologically and culturally, but their population numbers and range have declined severely in the past several decades in the Columbia Basin. In freshwater ecosystems, larval lampreys are candidate prey species for many fish predators, but little is known regarding the magnitude of predation they currently experience. Predation on larval Pacific Lampreys may be substantially underestimated by morphological gut content analysis because their soft bodies are quickly digested and leave no hard evidence, such as bones and scales. We conducted an experimental predation study and analyzed larval Pacific Lampreys in the gut contents of predators’ digestive tracts via both morphological and molecular methods. Whereas most consumed larval lampreys (67–100%) were morphologically unidentifiable within two nights, genetic species identification rates using four single nucleotide polymorphisms from stomachs were high (83%). The single nucleotide polymorphisms optimized for parentage in Pacific Lamprey also successfully identified the parents of four out of five Pacific Lampreys with complete genotypes. When a genetic baseline of candidate parents is available, this molecular technique using parentage-based tagging offers a novel method for determining precise characteristics of predation behavior in field studies, including the ages and natal origins of larvae being consumed.


Hiroaki Arakawa, Ralph Lampman, and Jon Hess


Arakawa, H., R.T. Lampman, and J.E. Hess. 2021. Whose kids did you eat? Genetic identification of species and parents of larval lampreys in fish predator guts. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 150(5):551-559. Online at



Report No.


Media Type

Journal Article