Species Profile

Western Brook Lamprey Morrison Creek population

Scientific Name: Lampetra richardsoni
Other/Previous Names: Morrison Creek Lamprey ,Western Brook Lamprey
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
COSEWIC Range: British Columbia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2010
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This dimorphic population of lamprey is a small freshwater fish endemic to a small stream on eastern Vancouver Island. It is susceptible to habitat loss and degradation owing to its close proximity to a major highway and increasing urbanization in the watershed.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1999. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in May 2000 and in April 2010.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Image of Western Brook Lamprey

Western Brook Lamprey Photo 1



The Morrison Creek population of Western Brook Lamprey (hereafter “Morrison Creek Lamprey”) is a small (10–18 cm), jawless fish with a circular-shaped mouth, and a scaleless body that resembles an eel. The species is “polymorphic”, meaning two distinct life history forms exist: non-parasitic and parasitic, both indistinguishable as larvae. As adults, the non-parasitic form is characterized by dark colouration, small size and blunt teeth; the parasitic form is characterized by silvery sides, a white under-belly, a shorter larval stage, delayed sexual maturation and sharp teeth. The taxonomic relationship between the Morrison Creek and other lamprey populations is currently unclear.


Distribution and Population

The species is endemic to the Morrison Creek watershed in Courtenay, British Columbia. There are no quantitative population estimates for either life history forms in Morrison Creek; however, data collected from 1977 to 2012 suggest that the parasitic form has decreased over that period.



Morrison Creek is a 19 km-long headwater stream fed by wetlands and springs, which help to maintain a relatively consistent cool stream temperature year-round. The stream bed is comprised of compacted sediment deposited by melting glaciers and ice sheets, patches of small gravel, and a large quantity of stream debris. The habitat preferences of Morrison Creek Lamprey are largely inferred from those of Western Brook Lamprey in other watersheds. Nesting habitats in stream beds are comprised of sand and gravel. Larvae younger than one year congregate in silty, shallow areas along stream edges. For Western Brook Lamprey in other watersheds, larvae two years and older were found to reside in deeper pools with leaf and sand substrate. During the winter months, lampreys are commonly found hiding in rock crevices or under other cover along the perimeter of the stream. In times of distress, it is thought that deep sand and soft surfaces provide vital refuge for lamprey.



Morrison Creek Lamprey spawn in the spring. To create a nest, adults carve a depression in the sandy, gravelly streambed. The species breeds in single pairs or groups with multiple males and females. Western Brook Lamprey eggs in other watersheds have been observed to hatch within 30 days. Larvae remain within the streambed gravel for an additional two to three weeks, before being swept downstream and burrowing into the mud to filter feed. The species remains larval for roughly three to seven years before metamorphosing into an adult in late summer or early fall. Some individuals may metamorphose into the parasitic marifuga variety, although the reason for this transformation is unknown. Non-parasitic lampreys spawn immediately following metamorphosis, while the parasitic form continues to develop and feed for a year before it spawns. Both forms die after spawning. The Morrison Creek Lamprey remains in freshwater throughout their lifespan of approximately four to nine years. Potential predators include Coho Salmon, Coastal Cutthroat Trout, Rainbow Trout, Coastrange Sculpin, Prickly Sculpin, Dolly Varden, and ravens. As larvae, Morrison Creek Lamprey feed on organic materials on the stream bed and suspended in the water. As adults, the parasitic form feeds predominantly on live fish; however, the species upon which Morrison Creek Lamprey prey are still unknown.



Primary threats to the species are land use activities, which have the capacity to alter aquatic habitat; water withdrawals and/or impoundment, resulting in changes to water availability and levels; release of deleterious substances into Morrison Creek Lamprey habitat; nutrient input through groundwater and/or surface flows from point or non-point sources; and human impacts on prey abundance. The Morrison Creek Lamprey is also restricted to a single watershed, increasing its vulnerability to threats.



Federal Protection

The Western Brook Lamprey, Morrison Creek population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for Morrison Creek Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni var. marifuga) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

27 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Western Brook Lamprey Lampetra richardsoni, Morrison Creek Population, in Canada (2010-09-03)

    Adult Western Brook Lamprey are small (~ 10 cm), elongate, jawless fish that live exclusively in freshwater. They have seven near-circular gill pores on either side of the branchial region, a single nostril atop the head, and a round, disc-like mouth. Paired fins are lacking. The skeleton is formed of cartilage and the blunt teeth of keratin. Typically, adult Western Brook Lamprey do not feed. Larvae (ammocoetes) are 10 to 15 cm long, and worm-like in shape, with a scoop-like oral hood covering a toothless mouth and translucent skin covering developing eyes. A population of Western Brook Lamprey found in Morrison Creek is a dimorphic population and is distinguished from the Western Brook Lamprey by the presence of a unique “marifuga” form as well as “typical” form. The marifuga form can be recognized as distinct from the typical form during a short period of its life cycle by its silver colour, larger size (15 to 18 cm), and tooth counts on the tongue. While both forms feed as larvae, only the marifuga form is able to feed following metamorphosis. The forms are, however, morphologically indistinguishable as ammocoetes. The degree of reproductive isolation between them is uncertain, but genetic data suggest that both forms are part of a single population. The Western Brook Lamprey (Morrison Creek Population) has no commercial value, but ammocoetes may play a major role in stream nutrient cycling. The marifuga form is of scientific interest for its extreme endemism and as a highly unusual example of evolution in lampreys. It has intrinsic value as a unique part of Canada’s biodiversity and for biological education.
  • COSEWIC Status Report on the Morrison Creek Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni) in Canada (2000-05-31)

    Lampreys (Petromyzonidae) are a successful group of vertebrates that have survived for close to 350 million years and have had a conservative evolution. The reason for their evolutionary success is not known but may be attributed to their ability to change among the three adult life history types; anadromous and parasitic, nonanadromous and parasitic, and, nonanadromous and non-parasitic. Direct evidence for this possibility comes from a rare population of Lampetra richardsoni that is presently known only from Vancouver Island, Canada. This population produces a potentially parasitic and a non-parasitic adult life history type each year, both of which are nonanadromous. The parasitic form is an undescribed variety of Lampetra richardsoni, the Morrison Creek variety. Although the Morrison Creek variety could be considered a new species on the basis of morphology and life history type, the genetic similarity which exists between the two forms indicates that the variety is probably not a new species but rather a unique morph of a single population, representing an intermediate step in the evolution of Lampetra richardsoni from an anadromous parasitic ancestor.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment Summary and Status Report: Western Brook Lamprey – Morrison Creek Population Lampetra richardsoni (2010-09-03)

    Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common nameWestern Brook Lamprey – Morrison Creek Population Scientific nameLampetra richardsoni StatusEndangered Reason for designationThis dimorphic population of lamprey is a small freshwater fish endemic to a small stream on eastern Vancouver Island. It is susceptible to habitat loss and degradation owing to its close proximity to a major highway and increasing urbanization in the watershed. Occurrence British Columbia Status historyDesignated Threatened in April 1999. Status re–examined and designated Endangered in May 2000 and in April 2010.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Western Brook Lamprey, Morrison Creek population (2010-12-02)

    This dimorphic population of lamprey is a small freshwater fish endemic to a small stream on eastern Vancouver Island. It is susceptible to habitat loss and degradation owing to its close proximity to a major highway and increasing urbanization in the watershed.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for Morrison Creek Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni var. marifuga) in Canada (2007-07-23)

    Morrison Creek lamprey is a unique life history form of the western brook lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni) that is believed to occur only in Morrison Creek, Vancouver Island (Beamish 1985). It was discovered in 1977, and is considered a derivative of L. richardsoni that has been labelled L. richardsoni var. marifuga (Beamish 1987). Although described in some detail, the Morrison Creek lamprey has not been given formal taxonomic status, and additional work is recommended to clarify the taxonomy. Its extreme endemic distribution is the principal factor in its designation as “endangered,” and likely entails that the species will always remain at some risk.

Action Plans

  • Action Plan for the Western Brook Lamprey – Morrison Creek Population (Lampetra richardsoni) in Canada (2018-11-07)

    The Western Brook Lamprey – Morrison Creek Population (Lampetra richardsoni) was listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. This Action Plan is considered one in a series of documents that are linked and should be taken into consideration together, including the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) status report, the Recovery Strategy, and the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Science Advisory Reports and Research Documents.


  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 146, number 14, 2012) (2012-07-04)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010-09-03)

    Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.

Permits and Related Agreements

Critical Habitat Orders

  • Critical Habitat of the Western Brook Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni) Morrison Creek Population Order (2019-05-15)

    The Western Brook Lamprey – Morrison Creek Population (Lampetra richardsoni) is a small freshwater fish endemic to the Morrison Creek watershed on eastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The species has a rare life history in which both a parasitic (L. richardsoni var. marifuga) type and a non-parasitic (L. richardsoni) type are produced. No quantitative population estimates exist for the Morrison Creek Lamprey; however, catch rates of the parasitic type of Morrison Creek Lamprey have decreased over the past 30 years. In April 1999, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Morrison Creek Lamprey as a threatened species. In May 2000, COSEWIC reassessed the species as an endangered species. In June 2003, the Morrison Creek Lamprey was listed as endangered on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (Schedule 1, Part 2) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). COSEWIC re-examined and confirmed the assessment of endangered in April 2010, and renamed the species Western Brook Lamprey – Morrison Creek Population (Lampetra richardsoni). Hereinafter, the species will be referred to as the “Morrison Creek Lamprey.”

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Recovery Document Posting Plan - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (2018-09-28)

    Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent Minister(s) must prepare a recovery strategy within one year of listing a species on Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered and within two years of listing a species as extirpated or threatened. A management plan must be prepared within three years for a species listed as special concern. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is accountable for 111 of the 518 species listed under SARA. As of February 2016, proposed recovery strategies, management plans and action plans for 57 of those species have not yet been posted to the Species at Risk Public Registry. An additional 23 aquatic species have proposed management or action plans coming due in the future. The following outlines the Department’s plan for posting proposed documents for 64 species on the Species at Risk Public Registry. The Department has a plan to post recovery strategies for 9 species, management plans for 13 species, and action plans for 42 species over the next year. Original publication of the Recovery Document Posting Plan: 2016-05-02
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