Graham Sustainability Institute

The Lure of Pheromones – Sea Lamprey Follow the Scent

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Adult male sea lamprey. Photo by Cory BrantThe first vertebrate pheromone has been registered by the USEPA as a biopesticide to help control the invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. While called a biopesticide, pheromones are naturally occuring substances produced by all animals. The new pheromone 3kPZS is produced and released by sea lamprey, environmentally benign and can only be detected by other sea lamprey. 

Sea lamprey in tank by cory brant

Mature female sea lamprey carry up to 300,000 eggs, and are particularly vulnerable during their reproductive migration through Great Lakes tributaries in the spring. The pheromone 3kPZS is the main compound used by males to attract females to a nest for courtship. Researchers found that in some cases, the added pheromone increased trap capture rates of sea lamprey by more than 50 percent. Once captured, females are removed from the system, along with their incredible reproductive potential. 
The 3kPZS pheromone is so potent that it takes an amount equivalent to one grain-of-sand of the compound to attract reproductive female sea lampreys to a precise spot in a stream. The sea lamprey’s nose is about three times bigger than their brain, making the pheromone a powerful method of control. 
The battle to control sea lamprey in the Great Lakes is ongoing. Pheromones can now be fully integrated as a tool for sea lamprey control, in conjunction with barrier-integrated traps and selective lampricides (current control methods in operation). These control methods help protect valuable native fish species such as lake trout, walleye and lake sturgeon. 
Currently, Cory is working on historical aspects of sea lamprey invasion and control in the Great Lakes. Previously, Cory’s Masters and Doctoral research involved characterizing the physiological and behavioral function of 3kPZS, working with advisor Dr. Weiming Li at Michigan State University.
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