The Environment Report
8:50 am
Thu May 29, 2014

What would you do if killer lampreys invaded your town?

Lamprey wrestling.
Credit Animal Planet

Would you:

A) run away screaming

B) attack them with golf clubs, weed whackers and curling irons, or

C) haplessly fall victim to them as you enjoy a quiet afternoon of fishing with your dog?

The residents of a fictional Michigan town do all of the above in "Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys" airing this week on Animal Planet. It's by the same people who brought us "Sharknado."

Watch the trailer below:

Really, it was only a matter of time. With its toothy suction cup for a face and razor sharp tongue, the sea lamprey was a horror movie villain just waiting to shine.

"Blood Lake" stars Shannen Doherty and Jason Brooks, along with Christopher Lloyd as the mayor with a seriously bloody pest problem on his hands.

There are lampreys attacking people at the beach, lampreys squirming in the toilet, lampreys leaping out of buckets and generally causing mass panic.

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a campy B movie without facts getting in the way

The first thing you should know about Michael Wagner is that he's a fan of B movies. He’s also an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

He says don’t worry, lampreys do love to drink blood. But they want fish blood, not human blood. Wagner says lampreys only attack humans in certain, lab-controlled situations.

“...when one graduate student walks up behind another one and sticks it onto his back. But generally that’s an attack by the student more than it is an attack by the lamprey,” he says.

There’s this scene in the movie where Shannen Doherty is trapped in the bathroom and there are lots of lampreys climbing up the walls. Sadly, real-life lampreys are not this athletic.

We can kill 100 million pounds of fish in the Great Lakes in a year if no one stops us.
Credit Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“That’s one of the reasons it makes it easier to control their movement into rivers through the placement of very small dams, dams that have a head on them of maybe a foot and a half or two feet, and that’s because sea lamprey do not climb very well,” he says.

(On a side note: Wagner says Pacific lamprey do have the ability to climb, although he says it's not as impressive as what we see in the movie.)

He reassures me they’re not going to leap out of your toilet either: "not unless someone threw one in there right before you went to the bathroom."

Here he describes a situation where lamprey will do their best to leap out of the water:

Let's say, theoretically, you happen to end up with a lamprey attached to you

It'd be a fun party trick. Jay Leno's done it:

And I have done it too. (Ok, so Leno attached an adult lamprey to his neck, and I attached a baby lamprey to my hand. Details, details.)

The suction is actually quite strong. Those buggers want to hang on. I pulled the lamprey off after a little while, but I wondered: what would've happened if I'd let it stay on?

Wagner says, “It would eventually detach.”

And he says the lamprey wouldn't have a lot of interest in sucking my blood:

"If for no other reason than because you're walking around in the air, and they don't do so well out of the water. The other thing I would mention is there’s pretty much no human on the planet who can’t beat up a lamprey, so I’d say you’re fairly safe.”

A herd of lampreys

In "Blood Lake," lampreys attack in groups.

In real life, lampreys do no such thing.

"So you're as safe with them as you are with a cat, because you're likely never to see a thousand of those coming at you across a field and attacking you in a big social group."

"They don’t follow the feeding mode of the classic movie presentation of piranhas, which involves, you know, thousands of them attacking you at once; they attack singly. So you’re as safe with them as you are with a cat, because you’re likely never to see a thousand of those coming at you across a field and attacking you in a big social group,” Wagner says.

Unless you encountered a herd of cats.

For the record, Wagner told me he liked the movie in a campy sort of way, and even after all that blood, he still thinks lampreys are cute.

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