Importance of the olfactory sense to migratory sea lampreys Petromyzon marinus seeking riverine spawning habitat

L. A. Vrieze, R. Bjerselius, Peter W Sorensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Scopus citations


This study tested the hypothesis that the sea lamprey Petromyzon marinus, a diadromous species of fish, relies on innately discerned odours, including pheromones, to locate riverine spawning habitat. Migratory, sexually immature P. marinus were captured as they entered streams flowing into the Great Lakes, and their olfactory systems were occluded or not by injecting either innocuous dental impression material or a saline control into their nasopores. Animals were then released back into lakes or streams and their recapture rates in stream traps noted. When released into Lake Huron, P. marinus with intact (functional) olfactory systems were very successful in locating rivers (recapture rates ranged up to 65%), while animals with occluded nasopores were virtually unable to do so and had recapture rates five to 20 times lower than intact animals. With few exceptions, intact fish entered the stream closest to their release point within a few days, irrespective of where they had been originally captured; their ability to locate streams is apparently innate and well developed. In contrast, when released within streams, both intact and occluded P. marinus successfully swam upstream to traps for several days although the ability of the former exceeded that of the latter after this period. Migratory P. marinus rely heavily on olfactory cues, of which a larval pheromone is presumably one, to locate river mouths and to a lesser extent to promote upstream movement within rivers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-964
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of fish biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010


  • Diadromy
  • Migration
  • Olfaction
  • Pheromone
  • Sensory ecology

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