This month’s critter is the pouched lamprey (Geotria australis), an elusive and ancient migratory fish. The pouched lamprey, also known as kanakana or pirahau, is the only lamprey species in Aotearoa New Zealand and is an important taonga species for Māori.
Somewhat reminiscent of the telescope-mouthed alien from the original Alien movie, lamprey have a permanently open, circular mouth lined with rows of teeth, which they use to latch onto other fish to suck their blood. Adding to their hardcore reputation, they can also use their mouths to climb up vertical waterfalls.
Pouched lamprey are found throughout Aotearoa from Southland to Northland. Most recently their DNA was detected in a sample collected by the Ōkārito Native Plant Nursery, on the West Coast of the South Island/Te Wai Pounamu. The community nursery supplies native plants for restoration from Haast to Nelson, and has been restoring wetland habitats in the area. Member Paula Sheridan also runs ecotours of the area to share the value of wetland ecosystems with visitors. "People on the tours are generally most interested in the birds" says Paula, "but you can't talk about the birds without talking about the plants and the other creatures and the waterways - it lends itself to learning more about the entire environment".
This whole ecosystem approach is what excited her about taking the eDNA samples, and the group are keen to use the information to advocate for protection of this precious environment. You can check out the two samples from the Ōkārito Native Plant Nursery on the Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao map using the UID numbers 506381 and 506176.
Explore the eDNA map - Wilderlab website
Find out more about pouched lamprey / kanakana / piharau
Read the profile of the pouched lamprey / kanakana / piharau - Rare Species website
Listen to the Our Changing World episode, Lampreys aka 'vampire fish' - RNZ website
Read the article, Lamprey – the vampire of the sea - Sciblogs website