Wild Spartans: Invasive Species with Taylor Haas

December 8, 2020

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MSU Researcher Taylor Haas implants tracking devices in fish before releasing them back into the wild. Watch the video to learn how this practice helps scientists conserve local fisheries.

Are you a Wild Spartan? Join 4-H staff as we meet scientists from across Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Take a look into life working with fisheries and wildlife! Follow along as we climb through bogs, peer into bear dens, mist net songbirds, snorkel for fish, or perhaps even tag deer. Meet researchers, learn about their field work, and the education and career path they've followed to get there.

In this 4-H Wild Spartans episode, we go upstream to learn about sea lamprey, an oceanic species invading the Great Lakes. Meet MSU graduate researcher, Taylor Haas, learn about his field work, and the education and career path he followed to get there in his presentation, “Invasive Species and I: A Scientist’s Tale of Working with Wildlife from Elsewhere”.

Find more Sea Lamprey resources here: 

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Video Transcript

(Crickets chirping)And good evening my 4-H family. Very glad to see you here and thanks so much for joining us on our Wild Spartans monthly Wildlife Science Series. This program is created by Michigan 4H, Michigan State University Extension, MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. We have 64 families participating from across Michigan. And we'd also like to welcome our guests from other states, from Utah, from Illinois. And we've also got a family registered from Canada. We're very glad to have you all here. I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Laura Quist. I'm a 4H program coordinator with a focus on shooting sports and environmental and outdoor education. I'm focused on activities housed out of Wexford County rather. We've got three other 4H program staffers with us tonight. Anne Kretschmann is coming to us from Houghton and Keweenaw counties up in the UP Veronica Bulhuis that's coming from Kalamazoo County. And Seth Martin is a 4H staff programmer from McCombs County down by Detroit. Also with us this evening we have Dr. Alexa Warwick. She's a wildlife Engagement Specialist with MSU Extension and the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and she's based out of East Lansing. So not all of you on the call today are 4H members. Some of you are new to 4H and we're very glad to have you here. 4-H is typically thought of as focusing on agriculture, agricultural issues like plows and cows. But we're actually the largest statewide youth development organization in Michigan. We focus on a variety of project areas. In this monthly series, Wild Spartans, we're going to focus on and explore careers in wildlife conservation. We'll meet scientists involved in field work will follow along as they climb through bogs, as they peer into bear dens, mist-net songbird snorkel for fish, and perhaps even tag some deer. You'll meet the researchers, learn about their field work, about the education and career paths that they followed to get to where they are now. And if you're interested, you can even join a wildlife theme 4H club in your own community. Tonight's program will last around 30 minutes. All participants will be muted and the cameras will be off. But if you type in the chat, all of the 4H program staff will see your questions and will answer. There's a box below at the bottom of your screen that says Q and A, that Q and A feature is there for you to ask questions to our guest speaker tonight. And he will pause during different program, different periods during our program. And he will answer all of your questions live during the program tonight. Again, this session is being recorded, but only the presenter and the moderators will be appearing on the video. And only our names will be appearing on the video. None of our, none of the youth on tonight's presentation will have their images or cameras cut on. We won't be able to hear your voices either. So just want you to know that that that is happening. The recordings will be made available on a website later. And you can go back and view though is and if you ever miss one know that those recordings are there and available for you as well. And with that, I'm going to turn the program over to Dr. Alexa Warwick for us sneak peek, maybe about a couple of our other presenters that are coming up later this year. And then she will introduce tonight's guest researcher. Thanks so much Laura, and for everyone for joining tonight, we really appreciate you being here. Yeah, we've got some fun programs lined up in a spring and sort of still winter, I guess. And hopefully those will include some technology and use of drones in doing conservation. Will be talking in February about bees and honeybees and then in March about herps, or reptiles and amphibians. And May we're looking forward to doing a bird program. So we'll we'll hopefully have all of those updated on the website before the beginning of the year. And we hope you'll all join us for those as well. Tonight though, it's my pleasure to introduce a graduate student in the department that I work in. Taylor Haas. He is a second-year master's student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University. His research interests lie in conservation and management. And at MSU, he studies invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. Prior to coming to grad school for his degree, he researched endangered native fish in Arizona for four years. And he has a combination of extensive laboratory as well as field experiences and has gotten really feel, really good feel for public interests. That gives him a unique perspective on fisheries management and conservation. And with that, I'll stop my sharing and let Taylor gets set up here. We're so thankful he could come join us tonight. He's had a very busy field season. So thanks again, Taylor, for joining us and we look forward to hearing more about what you're doing. So like Dr. Warwick said, my name's Taylor Haas. Be honest, I've never done a live presentation in this way before. So I'm going to try and make it as much like the other presentations I've given to youth. I'm going to ask questions. Instead of yelling out or blurting out your answer, type it in the chat or the question and answer box. I'm going to try and make it a little bit, (clears throat) excuse me, interactive though I'm going to make i it more fun for you and me. But yeah, without further ado, I'm a master's student at Michigan State and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Like Dr. Warwick alluded to. I've done fish work for the past four-ish years. And that's what I do here at Michigan State as well. This right here, this picture is out in Arizona and it kind of sets the theme of the talk. This is a spiny soft shell turtle that was caught in Lake Mojave. And the reason that is relevant here is because those turtles are not Native over there. And they look really cool, pretty wild look in that it's a big turtle. But it's not supposed to be there. And that is really in the line of work that I've worked in the past four years or so is working with animals that aren't supposed to be there or that aren't supposed to be where they are and the animals that it effects. So without further ado, I'll get going . First, Just because I don't know any of you all, you all don't know who I am. I'll give you a little bit of a background of where I got, or how I got to where I am now. Part of the theme of this talk is like from a career perspective, what a graduate student is, how to get to be a graduate student. This, that and the other. So I was raised in East Texas, in a little town called Tyler, Texas. Taylor from Tyler. It might get confusing. If you hear a little bit of a southern twang. Sorry, I apologize I hope you can understand everything I say. But I went to school for undergrad at the University of Oklahoma. And then from there I graduated and I moved to Colorado. Oh, sorry. I moved to Colorado where I worked in environmental education. Part of what I did there was I got to ski around in a Smoky Bear costume and teach children and adults to that a, be safe from fire. After that, I spent a year in Wyoming and I led wildlife tours in Yellowstone National Park. Then I moved down to Arizona where I started working on fish. This is just a snake in the desert. This is what's the razorback sucker, which is a fish that's native to the Colorado River. They grow to about three feet long. They're critically, critically endangered right now. That was the species that I studied. And part of the reason they're endangered is because of fish from places not the Colorado River that aren't supposed to be there. So I worked there for a couple years. Did a lot of field work. I think I I counted it up one year. I spent like 75 nights in a sleeping bag that year working out in the desert, collecting data, getting on the water, trying to, to help and, and gather data to further the conservation of this species of fish. And now, I am a grad student at MSU. I study sea lamprey and I'll get a little bit deeper into that later. But I'll stop there. Does anybody have any questions? (Veronica) I don't see any right now, Taylor. (Taylor) Ok. So I can't when I'm doing my screen share with this PowerPoint, I can't see if they pop up. So I'll just ask and if they have them, feel free to blurt them out. So what I'm doing here is I'm actually doing surgery on this fish. And I'll talk a little bit more about that later. But this right here, you can see there's a wound right there and I'm, I'm part of my research is I implant these sea lamprey with what's called an acoustic tag that you can track them with in a way. So why do I do that? Anybody have any ideas, any guesses? Why we might want to know where these animals are? Anybody? I'll even, I'll even go backwards a step. Does anybody know what a sea lamprey is? (Veronica "VB") In the chat they're putting "so that you can learn more about them" and "to see where they go and where their home is". "It's a fish that drinks blood out of other fish". (Taylor)Yeah. So Ryan Yeah. That is that is correct. It is a fish that drinks blood out of other fish and to see where they go and were their home is that's also correct. And of course we can learn more about them that way. Right? So it's a fish that eats the blood of other fish. And in the process of doing so, it kills the fish usually. So in the Great Lakes, there's a lot of fish that A) people like to catch for fun. But also it's a billion with a B, $1 billion industry. The commercial fishing in the Great Lakes. So you think of like your whitefish, your perch, you're lake trout. Those are all fish that have an immense economic value to people in this region. And sea lamprey, in the, in the middle of the 1900's like the 1950's, the fishing industry was basically crashed because of sea lamprey getting in the Great Lakes. And, and it's, it's what we call an invasive species. They might know what an invasive species is. Have you all ever heard the term invasive before? Whether it's in relation to an animal or anything. Anyone know what that means? (VB)You guys can put those right in the chat or in the Q and A if you'd like to. (Taylor) Yes. "Not native to the area they inhabit" exactly! Animal that's not native to certain area. Sure. Exactly. So that is all exactly completely correct. I'm going to show you the what you I guess would consider the legal definition. And this is this is the definition by the United States Fisheries and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Those are the that's a government agency that is really in charge of. So anything that's endangered. The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages and monitors if it's federally endangered. And their definition of invasive species is one that's not native to an ecosystem in which causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm to human health, to environmental harm or harm to human health. And again, that's the legal definition. And I want to get to bogged down in legalese, but there's another thing and in biology that you might hear called an alien species. And the US Fish Wildlife Service doesn't even have a definition for that. But if you look at this alien species definition, that's a little bit different. I'm gonna ask, I'm going to read it and I'm going to ask you to put in the chat if you can tell what the differences between the two definitions. So an alien species is any species including its seeds, egg, spores or other biological material capable of propagating that species that is not native to that ecosystem. So does anybody see any, any deference in those two definitions? I'll give you a second, don't worry. "Harm." Exactly. That's the word right there. So harm. Alien species isn't harmful to an ecosystem. So yeah, so I guess basically what you could say is all invasive species are alien species. But not all alien species are considered invasive because some species get here or wherever and they're not supposed to be there necessarily. But they don't really mess anything up that much. And invasive species like the sea lamprey, It's not supposed to be here. But it also messes up a lot of things in the Great Lakes. So it gets that term "invasive". So an example of a species that might not be considered invasive. So on the east coast of Africa, there is an island called Mauritius. It's in this red dot right there east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. And it's a, it's a paradise. Look at it. It's beautiful, right? And have you all ever heard of, if you've ever heard of like the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. They get a lot of fanfare. Their famous. It was home to dodo's exactly. Yeah, that's where the dodo came from. Keyword, it was home to dodos. So Mauritius unfortunately another species that went the way of the dodo they had was what's called the, that Domed Mauritius giant tortoise. And it looked like this. And the reason this picture is drawn and not a photograph is because there were none around by the time that any camera could be taking pictures. It's extinct in the early to mid 1700's. Now, basically, that Dutch colonized this island and they saw the turtles or the tortoise, excuse me, they saw the tortoises as really easy food to kill and eat. And so just like the dodo, this, this giant Domed tortoise of Mauritius went extinct. Now, this tortoise played a very integral part in the ecosystem of Mauritius. And I'm going to talk a little bit more about ecosystems later on. But what it did, they would eat the fruit on the island and it would spread the seeds of the fruit. For lack of a better term. And it's poop like animals do. And it would propagate the fruit trees of the island. So when this tortoise went extinct. That that prospect, that, that aspect of the, of the islands ecosystem was all a sudden absent. And it's pretty important part of the, part of the ecosystem. So bringing us back to alien species. In this same region, There's another island called Aldabra. And Aldabra, It just so happens to have a giant tortoise of its own. And the Aldabra giant tortoises actually genetically very closely related to the to the Mauritius domed tortoise. And so what they did in the early 2000's was they brought some of these tortoises from Aldabra to Mauritius. Yeah, it is a big tortoise. And, and now it kind of like a happily ever after. This is in Mauritius, with Aldabra tortoises. But the I'm going to pause there. But this would what, this would be what's considered an alien species and not necessarily invasive because although it's not the same as the Mauritius tortoise, It plays a similar part of the ecosystem. And with it being there, it's not necessarily causing any harm. And that harm is a keyword that we talked about in the definitions. And so you can get bogged down in, and later you might have hear these conversations with , like, genetics and philosophies of con, conservation. But when it comes to just doing what the extinct tortoise did, the Aldabra tortoise does a pretty good job of filling that hole in the ecosystem. So I'm going to pause there. If anybody has any questions before we go further? Put them in the chat. (VB) There are a couple questions. (Taylor) Sure (VB) They are wondering if Sea Lamprey are kind of like leeches or related to leeches. (Taylor)So I get that question a lot actually. So they're not I mean, no, they're not closely-related to leeches at all. But they, they are, they look similar and they act similar. So a sea lamprey, believe it or not, is actually considered a fish. It doesn't probably looked like any fish you've ever seen before, unless you've seen a sea lamprey or another lamprey. But it is a fish. And it, it, I guess it's similar to a leach in the sense that it it sucks on to fish and sucks their blood and the past that, it's it's not related to a leech. (VB)And next question is that this person learned that sea lampreys open their mouths, but they don't ever close them. Is that true? (Taylor)Yeah. So so they technically can't close them because they don't have jaws. So they're what's called a jawless fish. And there's not a whole lot of them of jawless fish. And if you've ever heard of like a hagfish? That would be another one. That's actually the closely related non lamprey to the sea lamprey. So yeah, once that's exactly right, they, they quite literally can't shut their mouths. So (VB) okay. Isn't related to a sucker? No. It's really and it's really not related to much of anything besides other lamprey. Just strictly speaking, a sucker has jaws. it doesn't necessarily use its mouth like that. But a sucker is like the razorback soccer that I used to work on. It would kind of work is like a vacuum cleaner. It wouldn't it wouldn't really bite onto anything. It would just kind of suck the dirt up off the ground and get like nutrients that way you may be thinking of like a a sucker type of catfish or something like that, that you would see you in an aquarium. Though, they're not really closely related to those either. Those are sucking onto like aquarium glass and eat like the algae off of those. So, no they are just kinda these weird creatures that are part of the reason they're so invasive. Is they're just so different from everything. (VB) Okay, is the sea lamprey mouth and kind of like a vacuum? (Taylor)No. so it's And lets see the best way to describe this. It's not a vacuum, necessarily what it does. Like a vampire bat I guess would be the, the best thing to compare it to. So actually there's a chemical in a lamprey saliva, called lamphedrin. And what happens is, is when that lamprey sucks onto the side of a fish, that chemical in the saliva enters that fish's blood flow and actually prevents the wound from healing and from closing. And so that lamprey hitches a ride on that fish for however long. Usually it's until that fish dies. Fish can survive lamprey attacks, they don't always die. It's, it's estimated that a single sea lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in a year. Which may not sound that a whole lot if you think about it. But when you consider there used to be quite literally hundreds of millions of lamprey that adds up pretty quickly. (VB) And so is there a numbing chemical in there so that the fish that they attached you don't feel pain? (Taylor) That's an, I have no idea. I I don't think I'm sure that fish feels it. And there's, there's, it's stories like a fish in a lamprey in an aquariums that have latched on to other fish. And the fish will be seen like swimming and hitting the side of the aquarium. As to if it hurts the fish. I'm sure it doesn't feel pleasant. But it's, it's kind of a slow, slow death for the fish as they slowly get the blood sucked off them. And I've had like handling these things in a lab. Sometimes you like grab them and that will latch on to you. They'll suck on the humans. Now not you want that will ever happen in the wild, but in a lab. They suck on. It's like a weird experience. It's a weird feeling and it'll kind of stiff your arm up a little bit if it sucks on there for long enough. (VB) Ok, so what do lampreys do after the fish die? (Taylor)So they do one or two things. And I'll talk about the second one later on. But the first one would be they get off and go find another fish. to suck on to. (VB) Ok, we have lots of good questions here. (Taylor) Yeah, these are good! I like it! (VB) What if something is native and does cause harm? (Taylor) So I'll kinda get into that later and I've got some visuals. So hold that question, hold that thought. And I will kinda talk about that later with visuals to really explain that. (VB) Okay, And how good can sea lampreys swim? (Taylor) So not very well if you're comparing them to like a salmon or a trout, bass or something like that. They can't swim near as well as, as the fish can. But they can swim well enough to swim downstream and swim fast enough to suck on to fish. But like if you are going to Race one or something like that, I don't think it would be a very good fish to to pick in a race. (VB) Can they see very well? (Taylor)No, I guess would be the answer to that question, like compared to other fish? No, they can't. In fact, they don't even have eyes when they're little, when their larvae, their eyes develop later in their life. And it's, it's more of they can see, but it's they're not like sitting and chasing after, chasing after their prey where they have to really hone in on anything. They're kind of their eyes are, are more sensitive to like light than anything. And so they may notice when a fish swims by, but they might not be able to tell the shape of it or something like that. (VB) Okay. So where are sea lamprey native to and since they are not native to Michigan, why are they everywhere else? (Taylor)So they're are native to the Atlantic Ocean. So like all the east coast states that border the Atlantic Ocean, their native there. They are also native on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Europe. In fact in like Portugal and Spain, they're considered a delicacy. (VB) And we actually found that out this morning when we were looking some things up, we find out that they sell them and eat them as a delicacy. (Taylor) So, yeah, and in the medieval times, lamprey pie was a big thing in that area of the world. I probably wouldn't try one, but so why are they? So there's kind of some debate on that. In the lamprey community. I'm the only one of the great lakes that has a direct connection to the Atlantic Ocean is Lake Ontario. And some, some researchers say that lamprey, it always lived in Lake Ontario. There's a native population there. But if you go, Lake Ontario is connected to Lake Erie. But there's a little waterfall called Niagara falls between the two. So that if there were lamprey native in Lake Ontario, they could never get up like that connection from Huron or from from Erie to Ontario runs north. So there was never a way for lamprey to get into Lake Erie because Niagara Falls, they could never get over the falls. However, in the 1800's, 1900's, as our country was growing, commerce was growing. They build things called locks and canals to connect the Great Lakes and the Wayland canal and the Erie Canal. Now, the Erie Canal gives a direct connection to the ocean, to Lake Erie and the Wayland canal. I think it's right. The Wayland canal connects Ontario to Lake Erie without Niagara Falls to get over. And Lake Erie is connected to all the other Great Lakes. So that's really when the invasion happened, was when these canals and locks built and these ships, what a ship will do. It's a big freighter, got a bunch, a timber, stone or whatever coming up from the UP down. It's going to unload wherever it's dropping its stuff off to and then it's going to fill up its water. It's going to fill up, excuse me, what's called it's ballast with water to keep that that ship like more steady in the water because the light ships going to get tossed and turned by storms, it same thing happens coming in. And, and ships that would drop off their cargo say in like New York would then drive through, boat through into the Great Lakes and they would fill up, they're ballast with water to steady that ship. And then they get into the Great Lakes and dock. And so they let all that water out. And there would be sea lamprey in that water. And then from there it kind of exploded. (VB) Okay. So do they attached to anything other than the fish to get food? (Taylor)Not to get food. No. They'll attached to like rocks and stuff to just kind of hang out and chill. It saves a lot of energy that way. But that now the only thing that they're going to eat, is why I'd say that there are other lamprey, not sea lamprey, but there's other lamprey in the world. There's an Arctic lamprey that they've seen attached to like walruses. Like whales and stuff like that. (indistinct speech)(Taylor) not just fish. (VB)Do fish feel pain the same way that we do? (Taylor)And that is not my area of expertise. I would probably say no though. (VB) OK. And how old does a sea lamprey live? (Taylor)Yeah, So I'm going to get into that. They can live about ten years or so would be the longest that one would live probably. (VB)Okay. Are you covering breeding and babies later? (Taylor "T") Yeah. (VB)There's a question of how they breed. (T)Yep. (VB)We'll leave that for later then. Do you see lamprey let go of their prey while they're still alive, or do they wait till they die? and, can a person get bit by a sea lamprey? (T) Huh, You're not going to get bit by one no. Typically they would, They would yeah, they're probably gonna suck onto that fish until they're, that fish is dead. Yeah. (VB)Okay. A sea lamprey has Sea in its name, does that mean that it changed from saltwater and freshwater? (T)Oh! that's a good question. So sea lamprey is what's called anadromous. And you think of a Salmon. Do you know anything about Salmon And it's the same way. In that in their natural habitat, sea lamprey lives in fresh, excuse me, lives in salt water and will swim upstream to breed. And then they'll grow up in freshwater. And then they'll swim downstream to eat. And so obviously if they're here, right, they can live in both. And there are animals that can live in both. sea lamprey are one of the few though that can I really thrive in both of them. (VB) Okay, well that looks like all of our questions for now so we will let you move on for a little bit. (T) We'll go on and load up on so load up while I'm talking, load up the chat with questions, and I'll stop again and answer some of those. So the question is here is ,when are introduced species bad? Like why was that turtle I keep saying turtle, why was that tortoise not bad necessarily, but why it's a sea lamprey so bad? And I'll put it in the chat if you have any ideas as to as to what may make that decision. Curious to see what you guys have to say. Any thoughts? Interfere with local ecosystem? exactly! When they hurt or kill other species. Yeah, so the, the ecosystem, you really hit the nail on the head right there. In fact, simple rule of thumb in conservation. If you guys are interested in conservation, going forward. If you're interested in studying it, whatever, you're going to hear the term biodiversity. Anybody know what biodiversity means? Throw that in the chat, if you know that biodiversity is. Any thoughts? A wide variety of species, the number of different species in an ecosystem. Yes, so if you have, so you're both right. So quite simply, the term biodiversity refers to the variety of life, the diversity of all living organisms from the various ecosystems of the planet. So there's that word again, eco-system, and that's kinda the keyword here. So, in an ecosystem, the biodiversity refers to everything from the birds flying in the sky, the fish in the lake, the squirrels in the tree, the bugs in the dirt, the algae growing on the trunk of the tree, anything that is considered living is part of the biodiversity of whatever ecosystem that it's in. And that word eco system is, would I like to think of as a Jenga, a tower of Jenga. And this is where I'll answer the question of what if a native species is bad? Now in a perfectly intact ecosystem, which not a whole lot of those left, but in a perfectly intact ecosystem, your Jenga board or your Jenga tower is going to look like this. Every single block of that wood represents maybe the different, maybe one block of wood is the fly in the next block would is the mockingbird. And then you got the foxes and the, you know, whatever it is. Every block of wood represents a piece of life, a piece of the ecosystem, a piece of biodiversity that makes up this community. Now, in a perfectly untouched ecosystem. which that's another philosophical debate, may or may not be a thing. But for the sake of this, we'll say it's perfectly untouched and everything in it is in some sort of harmony where all of these animals adapted, came up, evolved together. And so that sea lamprey you may, somebody may have a question, oh, why aren't sea lamprey bad in the Atlantic Ocean? Well, frankly, there's a couple of reasons. One, the fish in the ocean are bigger than the fish in the Great Lakes. And also the animals in the ocean are use to sea lamprey being around. They have a defense mechanism to to fight off a sea lamprey. If you look at life out in Yellowstone where I used to work, you've got wolves there, you've got deer and elk. Now the wolves may be bad for the elk. However, the elk are used to having wolves around and there's more elk than there are wolves. So, you know, that's how you would say that native species is bad in a, in an ecosystem sense. It's really not because even though it may do damage to some species, that species has a adaptation, had it's used to whatever that predator is being around, it can still function and reproduce. And that population of elk in that example are still going to be there. Despite the wolves killing some. So as an ecosystem gets what's called degraded, your Jenga tower starts to lose its structure, right? you know, say, Humans came in and go back to Mauritius and they took out the dodo, they took out the, the, the tortoise. And your ecosystem still functioning. It's still there. But you've got some pieces missing. And it's not nearly as strong as it once was. It's what's called fragile. And then maybe you take out some more species and you've got even more uncertainty in your ecosystem. Your structure is, is really, really lacking right now and you got pieces like this right here where it say this is some sort of plant that, that bugs eat and then the birds eat the bugs and then whatever eats the birds. And if that's gone than everything above, it is going to topple. And that's what the sea lamprey did when it came in the Great Lakes. Is it ate so many fish that it, it really destroy the ecosystem because most of the fish native to the Great Lakes, especially and bring this back to humans, especially the prized commercial fish, like white fish. They were more or less ext, they were still around, but they were, they were very, very hard to find. And the Great Lakes is really interesting ecosystem to study. Because just about every every fish that you've ever heard of, it's probably been put in the Great Lakes at one point. Some of the parents, grandparents out there may remember that alewives in the Great Lakes. Alewives are a little shad about yea big, that are also anadromous. They live in the ocean. They got in the Great Lakes and then they just started dying all over the place. And I've heard stories of people back in the sixties, seventies of just massive mounds of alewives being on the beach and they and it destroys ecosystems. And eventually what you're going to have is that Jenga tower's going to fall down and your ecosystem, once it's, it's toppled, it's really hard to fix. You may have noticed, like I'm not saying sea lamprey near as big of a problem as they were back in the fifties. As because we as scientists, researchers have figured out a way to control them and keep that part of the ecosystem intact and restore it before. You know, if, if all the white fish in the lake trout and whatever were all killed by the sea lamprey, Then no matter even if we kill all the sea lamprey, you still wouldn't have that ecosystem restored because those species would be extinct. So were sea lamprey come into the well, stop there. I'll stop there. If anybody has any questions. Send them my way. (VB) I don't know if you saw in the chat but it says the humans, mess up all sort of things like ecosystems. (T) They do, yeah, we're we are very adept at at messing up nature. But, you know, it's good that people like you, people like the youth everywhere. I wanted to see I love you give these talks because when I was you guys age, I found this stuff fascinating. And then when you realize like, wow, this stuff's all messed up. And it's kind of a puzzle to like figure out how to fix it and it, it, it's interesting. (VB) Then somebody said that they thought the ecosystems were types of places like forests, bogs, mountains, oceans. But the species of plants, more than animals, is that true? (T)Yes and no. Like, an ecosystem, ecosystem would be like a forest. You're absolutely right. The forest is an ecosystem. But if you took all the animals out of the forest, that forest ecosystem wouldn't be a forest it's much longer, right? Because those animals play an important role in propagating the plants, growing the plants, keeping them in check. So it's, you're right in the sense that like a forest, which you think of a forest is like plants and trees and whatnot. That is an ecosystem. But everything in that, all the biodiversity in that forest help keep that ecosystem intact. If that makes sense. (VB)Somebody just commented that wolves can be viewed as good for elk as they prevent overpopulation and death from food scarcity. (T) Exactly. Yeah. And you know, one of the worries, like one of the importance of predators in your ecosystem is if there's so many elk and they're all living in close quarters, that's how disease spreads. And there could be a disease that take out all the elk, potentially knock out a huge population of the elk if they're not control it. And that's just an example. It could be many things. But yeah, everything, everything you just like in that Jenga board, everything plays its part. It's a cog in a functioning gear out of that functioning ecosystem. And its all kind of held together by themselves, by each other. (VB) Are sea lamprey, sorry. Do sea lampreys sometimes eat each other? (T)No. No they're really, they're really slimy. Like snakes that are like almost like you can't hold one in your hand. We have to wear special like this guy right here up top. He's that sea lampreys like sucking onto his hand. That's like only way he's grabbing it. if you just try to grab it, it would like squirm out. So I can imagine if a lamprey tried to suck onto another lamprey. It wouldn't stay on there very long. (VB) Okay. I think that's it for now. (T) So okay. Cool. So this is now, this is why we don't want sea lamprey here. Some of you may have caught a fish that has a wound on it. We call it a lamprey wound or scarring. It's a fish that survived an attack. The usually the fish that have these wounds don't last very long after that. Because that will we can get infected and eventually kill that fish. But this will kind of answer a lot of your questions about lamprey and talking about the life cycle of lamprey and I mentioned salmon. And someone asked how many babies and how did they breed? And this was answer, oh, answer all your questions right here. So it's a circle, like the lamprey life cycle. And if you know anything about salmon and you'll note, you'll note a lot of similarities. So this is an adult lamprey. As they're an adult, so that this guy just got done feeding. And he's swimming upstream to breed just like a salmon does. So in the Great, in the Great Lakes, they swim outward from whatever lake there in, upstream. In the ocean, swim out of the ocean into the rivers upstream. And then they spawn. And just like salmon do, they die when they spawn. So they do what's called broadcast spawn. Sprayed eggs and gametes all over the place and then they die. And they don't know if their eggs are going to hatch or anything of the sort. They don't care about that. But there's in the millions of, of eggs being laid. There are one of, so it's a science word called fecund F-E-C-U-N-D like how many eggs, does that animal have. sea lamprey are one of the most fecund animal and one of the most fecund fish in the world. Which is part of why they are such a big issue. So then the eggs hatch and there the, so this is me holding a larva and it's, it's not a very good picture. But this larva is, it looks kinda like an earthworm. That's about how big they are. They don't have eyes, they don't have a mouth. They don't have teeth yet. And they they dig around in the dirt and they live in that dirt. And someone asked me how long they live, the majority of their life is lived in the dirt. And so, they do what's called filter feed in the dirt. They eat nutrients, usually like fungus, algae, things of that in the dirt. Then they emerge from the stream bed and what they call transform. And it's one of the few actual transformations of vertebrae. And this is what's called, we call him transformers. And you can see it's not that much bigger than the larvae, but it has all of its teeth and has a fully formed mouth. And this is the, this is the stage that I work on. And that's what one of them looks like. And then as they swim downstream, they start sucking on fish. And then they start the cycle over again. So someone I saw in the chat, so why don't we just kill them all, right? because they mess everything up. So that's a good question. And we do. And that's why they're not an issue or as big of an issue that they used to be. Does any body have, let me ask you this question. Of these different parts of their life cycle, which one do you think would be the best time to control them? Throw it in the chat if you've got an idea. Yeah! So the larva, you're exactly right. And the reason they're larval years. Yeah. So the reason there are easiest controlled as a larvae AS 'cuz they're all chilling together and that dirt. And by the time they're in the open water, hey, you guys have seen how big those lakes are, we're not going to pick off those things off one by one. But when they're larvae, there can be hundreds and thousands of them in the dirt at the same right next to each other. So there's actually a chemical that we treat streams with, and it's what's called a biologically benign chemical. And then what benign means is that it doesn't do harm to other species. Actually found this chemical they had at a lab in Cheboygan that I actually work out back in the sixties or seventies. I don't remember the exact year. But they had all these tanks with lamprey and lake trout in them. They would try these different chemicals and they were looking for one that would kill the lamprey that didn't kill the lake trout, They eventually found one. And so they treat the stream beds, Yeah, Cheboygan! So they treat these stream beds when the larvae are in there and this chemical's called TFN will kill the larvae and then kills 95 to 98% of the larvae. It's so effective that it, it, it's kinda solely responsible for the return of the commercial fishing industry in the Great Lakes. It was look at really dire back then. And yes, since it's been implemented and then we treat these rivers, those fish have been allowed to recovery. And so like I said before, this, these transformers, this is the, this is the live phase that I study. We know a lot about the larva, we know a lot about the adults. We don't know a whole lot about the, so these are technically called juveniles when they're parasitic. We know some about them because the fishermen are catching fish and turn the lamprey into researchers that can do experiments on them. But we don't know a whole lot about like from that time when they come out of the stream bed as larvae, when they transform, to the time they start eating. We don't know hardly anything about it. So that's my job. My graduate research project is to try to find out anything and everything that I can about those. Another part of lifecycle. So what I do is I do surgery on these fish, a knock them out with a anesthetic. Just like if anybody, a human where to go to surgery, you would have an anesthesiologist that would put you to sleep. I'm both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist, I guess for lamprey that put these things asleep. I'll make a little small incision with actually a scalpel that's used for eye surgeries. And then I put a tag in it. And that looks like this. So this guy, you can still see he's gilling, hes breathing. I make that little incision and I put that tag in there inside its body cavity. And take some tweezers, make sure it's behind the incision so it didn't fall out. And then what we do as we take a small amount, a small number of these, and we put them in the water. And then I've got receivers that you think of it like a telephone call. Like that tag is ringing. I've got receiver is up and down this river and this lake. That will answer, if you will, that tag. So if that lamprey's in in shot of that tag and range of that receiver. A receiver will pick it up. And then I go and download all the data and then let me know when that lamprey was swimming by that receiver. And then I've got another one little further downstream. And if it hits that one, it'll tell me when it hit that one. And I can say, okay, well, you know, it was swimming, it was swimming It took two days to get from the top of the river to the bottom. Okay. Or I can say, well, I put in 50 at the top, but at the bottom of the river where my last receiver is only ten of them made it that far. Well then we know well, okay. Maybe 20% that make that transform and went downstream make it to the end. There's a lot of science and math involved in there, but that's the gist of it. I mean, I'll pause for questions. And I see one. "Why do you put them in the water if they kill fish that other species need?" That's a good question. And it does sound a little bit counterintuitive in the sense that we know these fish are bad, why am I putting them in the water? It's kind of like for the greater good argument, the amount of lamprey that I put in the water is so miniscule compared to the amount that are in the Great Lakes right now. That whatever data that I get, hopefully, whatever data I get from my project is going to help control way more than however many I put in the water. We're still trying to learn about these things behavior. And yeah, for science, that's a good reason as any. But I will say like, I like to do science with a practical purpose. But like for example, they spent a lot of money at every year you know, treating these, these lakes or these lakes streams and creeks and rivers. My project, there's a big lake at the end of it. Typically, if you guys ever fished before, there was more fish in lakes than there are in rivers. So our thought is, well maybe a lamprey that's in a in a stream that flows into a big lake like this before it gets , this is Lake, Michigan over here, So if it flows into a big lake, maybe it has a better chance of being eaten by another fish before it has a chance to latch on to something. And if that's the case. Maybe we don't need to spend as much money treating those streams because the native fish that are in there already are going to do a pretty dang good job of it by themselves. Now we don't know that that's a thought. But yeah, you know, when you're treating and managing things, you just try to learn as much about it as you can to inform your decisions. And like I said, there's not a whole lot known about this part of this lifecycle. So that's my job is to try and figure that out. And then people that are way above my pay grade as a grad student will make a decision on what to do next. So there's my little lamprey, it swims downstream, pings the receivers. And then, yeah, that's about it for the talk. I will say like sense, careers and things of that nature are a theme for these talks. I would be remiss to not share a little bit of advice. And there's not a whole lot to tell you at this stage, but there are some things that will help you if you're interested in getting into this field, whether it's in a grad program, work, whatever it is. The number one thing is experience. You're gonna like, most jobs are like this, but it's kind of a loop, a circle that's hard to get into like any job that you apply for. They're going to want someone with experience. Well, how do you get experience in the first place? Volunteer. Look up youth programs with the Michigan, or whatever state you're at, The Department of Natural Resources. The Student Conservation Association is a thing that has is an entity that's, that's kind of a federal agency, quasi federal agency that it has opportunities for youth in high school and and maybe even earlier, I'm not sure but to, to do the most is the best, number one key, that I would say. And when you're, you're right now, you're young. You have some time on your hands, go out, volunteer. It could be volunteer at the zoo for a summer or something like that. That's going to look better than somebody who has the same interest as you but hasn't ever done anything. So, while you're young, this is a great opportunity, this is a great time to get experience. And really put your, put you ahead. And math. So this field is great. You get to be outside a lot. You'd see some cool things. I liked being outside. I feel like most of you all probably like being outside. But when it comes to like the science-y stuff, there's a lot of math you're going to need to know and you'll learn. I'm not saying you have to be an expert in it now. But I will say as a guy who used to be averse to math and I hated math when I was you guys age. Math is a lot more fun when it's on something that you're interested in. So like maybe your algebra homework doesn't, isn't very interesting. But when you do an algebra to look at your lamprey numbers, it's pretty interesting. So you try and try and get tuned up on your math as most as best you can. Calculus, algebra, probably use most. Coding. So this was a thing that was not a thing when I was your guys age, it's starting to become a huge thing in science where in the world in general. And that's just a piece of advice I'd give anybody, if you, whatever field you want to go into, if you know how to code a little bit on a computer, It's going to help you out . And then writing. You write a lot in the science field. And so anything you can do to, to touch up on these skills is gonna really puts you in a good position. If you're interested in, in the field that I'm in right now. So with that, I'll take questions and then (VB) Taylor, we do have more questions. So are sea lampreys asexual? (T) They are not, No. They have to they have to find a mate. Well, yeah. It's not always the mate. They pick up, the eggs, get fertilized from a yeah, it's a male and female lamprey and they they are not asexual. (VB) Okay, I'm how can they live for ten years if they die after they spawn, or do they only spawn once and then they die? (T) Yep, they only spawned once. So that's a, it's called a life history strategy. Whatever pressures environmentally they had when they were adapting to the world that they were in. That's what worked the best for them. So just like salmon, they swim upstream, they spawn and then they die. (VB)Can sea lampreys eat so much blood that they burst? (T) (laughing)I've never heard of that happening. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but I think they probably so as they eat, they grow. Obviously, just like us, right? And I think the more they eat, they will just grow and adjust to that. And they can get up to like three feet long in some places. So I think if they were to get close to bursting, they would just grow a little bit longer so they could hold that weight a little bit more. (VB) Okay, Do they have a preference of fish or do they just take any fish that they can see and smell? (T) Yeah, so that's a good question. In the Great Lakes they seem to attach to soft-bodied fish, which are fish like trout and salmon that don't have like real scaly, thick bodies. There's a lot of theories as to why. The most obvious one, which doesn't mean it's correct, is that they're just easier to bore into. But yeah, they do seem to prefer the soft bodied fish, which unfortunately, is a lot of fish that people like to eat the Great Lakes. So yeah. (VB) So when you're doing surgery on the lamprey, can they breathe while you do that surgery? (T)Yes. So so they're out of water. So technically, not really, but there's enough, the surgeries take like a minute. And in fact, we are like by rules supposed to keep them out of the water for less than two minutes because of like animal care stuff. So like if there's water on their gills, there's still going to be able to breathe a little bit even if they are technically out of the water. So their gills are pumping. And yeah, they're probably getting a little bit oxygen from the water that's that's leftover while they're while I'm doing surgery. If you don't see those gills moving while I'm doing surgery, that's bad news. That means yeah, you did a little too hard or a little to long. It might be in trouble. (VB) Okay. So when you're doing surgery, do you sterilize the tagged lamprey that you release or how do you prevent that from contributing to being invasive? (T) Yeah. So I I don't. short answer is like i said, it is so miniscule that it wouldn't even make it dent even if all of them survived. And I'll put it this way. The larval success rate is, is astronomically small. They're Or that egg success rate, I guess so. If I put in 10 thousand lamprey, that would be an issue. I'm not putting anywhere near that many. It's a very small number. And so I guess you could say it may make a little smidgen of a dent, but it may also not. I mean, that's the thing is we don't know anything about these fish in this life stage. So it's more, it's kind of like that. Like for the greater good that I would say. In fact, sacrifice whatever damage these fish are gonna do. Because what we learn is going to make up for it later down the road. (VB)Okay. And you said the tag is inside of the body, correct? (T) It is yeah. (VB) So do lampreys have natural predators or are there fish that eat lampreys? (T) Yes. So that's a, that's a really good question. They found lamprey remains in anything from a shark to a whale, to a bass, to a catfish to a snapping turtle. There are pictures of them in bird beaks. There's pictures of like an otter gripping one. There's a picture of a crayfish has one in its, its pincers. Problem with lamprey is they they don't have bones. So they're, they're like cartilage like you like sharks are. An animal could be eating lamprey everyday for its life. If we caught that animal and did like a gut analysis test, we may not even know that it had been eating lamprey. Because a lamprey doesn't have the bones that you would find. So they do have natural predators in their in their native ecosystems. I'm not sure if there's and the animal that likes solely survives on lamprey. Not to my knowledge. (VB) Okay, And so why are lamprey so slimy? (T) So some homework, to go look up a hagfish if you think a lampreys slimy. They're slimy, so just yeah. So first I would say like just because something, just because an animal has a characteristic to it, doesn't always necessarily mean there's like a reason for it. But I would suspect that the reason they're so slimy is that it's easy to get away from things. They're hard to grasp. And it could just be something that's the way they were when they first became lamprey and it was good enough and it worked for them so they never had to change. Like, that could very well be the answer. Past that. I'm not I'm not real sure. (VB) Okay. Are lampreys more dangerous, chemical-wise to eat compared to a top predator like a pike. (T)Yeah, so you don't want to eat them if you ever catch one in the Great Lakes, cuz they have a bunch of mercury in them. And , like you mentioned the pike and a top predator you makes me think you've probably heard of the term like bio magnification or bioaccumulation like where you eat from the bottom, more stuff hangs around up top. Mercury hangs like it gets stored in the blood and the fat tissue of animals, which is what the lamprey go after. So they are very concentrated and nasty stuff that you don't want in your system. So I probably should have added that disclaimer. If you ever catch like a trout or something that as a lamprey on it, just because it's a delicacy overseas, don't eat it if you caught it in the Great Lakes. Not good for you. (VB) Alright. So might you put the tag inside the tag, destroy anything like the nerves or organs? (T) Yeah, that's good question. So actually the previous study I did before. I put these in the water, puts to test that out. And it all depends on how well the surgery goes in a perfect world, if everything goes smoothly, it doesn't. I did a bunch of like swim test with a tagged lamprey and control lamprey that didn't have any surgery. And as long as the surgery went well, there was no difference in their swimming abilities. I will say it's definitely easier. Excuse me, it's definitely easier the bigger the animal is, bigger than the lamprey is. There's a rule with, but fish generally don't want like the tag to be any bigger than 2% of the animal's body weight. And if it's anything heavier than that it, it's kinda like that. May, you know, you don't want to hurt him, but you also don't want to alter its natural behavior. You don't want it to act differently than it normally would. So to answer your question, get can. But if it does, that means something went wrong. (VB) Are there are other species of lamprey invasive? (T)So that's a great question. There are native lamprey in the Great Lakes. I want to say , there's four of them, four or five. And they're not invasive. And some of them are parasitic. And some, not all lamprey are parasitic like sea lamprey. But I would go back to that like Jenga tower. The lamprey that are native here, even the parasitic ones, all the other animals, all the other fish in the ecosystem came up, evolved, adapted with these native lampreys. So even if a lamprey is parasitic, if it's native, all the other native fish have dealt with it for generations and generations. So they're not, they're not invasive in that sense. How many species? I can kind of see these questions. So there's like 43 or 44, I want to say. Depends on who you talk to. Depends on what different people consider a species, They may have different definitions of species, but I think the current numbers like 43 or 44, (VB) Are there species that naturally how , sorry. (T) Say that again? (VB) Are there species of lamprey that naturally live in freshwater? (T)Yeah, yeah. So all the ones here, the native ones. There's a chestnut lamprey. There's what's called a brook, a northern brook lamprey, and an American brook lamprey. and a silver lamprey. And those are all native to freshwater. (VB) And what was the first one you mentioned? (T) A brook lamprey. So they're is a northern brook and an American brook lamprey. (VB) that looks like all of our questions for tonight, Taylor. (T) Cool Well, thank you for being a really good audience. This was, I guess I've never done this before, but this was worked out great. So thanks everyone for coming and listening to me talk about lamprey. ( Dr W)Thanks so much, Taylor, that was awesome and Veronica, thanks for facilitating the questions because there were a lot of questions, which was amazing to see. So thank you all that have stuck around for a whole extra 15 minutes tonight and that, you know, once again, thanks, Taylor. Really appreciate the time and all of the information that you shared tonight. (Jan)Thank you for joining us, everybody. Don't forget. You can join a 4H club in every single county across the state. You can join clubs to explore wildlife. You can engage in wildlife conservation stewardship activities, just like we talked about tonight. And that can be the focus of your 4H Club. that meets right close to your own backyard. To learn more about that, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office to learn more about how you can get involved in your own local 4H program in January. Take care everybody. (crickets chirping) (Music)