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What is this organism?

With this huge sucker lined with teeth, this organism might look like something out of science fiction. But this is a real fish found in the ocean, known as a lamprey. They use their teeth and sucker to bore into other fish and suck their blood. The lamprey is an example of a jawless fish.

Jawless Fish

What defines a jawless fish? You can probably guess. A jawless fish is a fish without a jaw. But there are other features that are shared by this class of organisms.

Features of Jawless Fish

Jawless fish are missing the following parts:

  1. Jaws.
  2. Paired fins.
  3. A stomach.

Characteristics they do have include:

  1. A notochord, both in larvae and adults. Recall a notochord is a support rod that runs along the back of the fish.
  2. Seven or more paired gill pouches . These organs take dissolved oxygen from water.
  3. The branchial arches , a series of arches that support the gills of aquatic amphibians and fishes. They lie close to the body's surface.
  4. A light sensitive pineal eye , an eye-like structure that can detect light.
  5. A cartilaginous skeleton , a skeleton made of a flexible supportive material called cartilage.
  6. A heart with two chambers.
  7. Reproduction using external fertilization.
  8. They are ectothermic . This means that their internal temperature depends on the temperature of their environment.

Classification of Jawless Fish

Most scientists agree that the jawless fish are part of the class Agnatha. They belong to the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata. There are two living groups of jawless fish, with about 100 species in total: lampreys and hagfish ( Figure below ). Although hagfish belong to the subphylum Vertebrata, they do not technically have vertebrae. For this reason, scientists still disagree on the classification of jawless fish.

A hagfish.


  • branchial arches : Series of arches that support the gills of aquatic amphibians and fishes.
  • cartilaginous skeleton : Skeleton made of bone-like material called cartilage, a tough yet flexible material that lends support.
  • ectothermic : Having an internal temperature that depends on the temperature of the environment.
  • gill pouches : Series of arches that support the gills of aquatic amphibians and fishes.
  • notochord : Support rod that runs along the back.
  • pineal eye : Eye-like structure on top of the head that is capable of light detection.


  • The jawless fish include the lampreys and the hagfish.
  • Jaws, fins, and stomachs are absent in the jawless fish.
  • Features of the jawless fish include a notochord, paired gill pouches, a pineal eye, and a two-chambered heart.


Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. How do lamprey eat? Be as specific as you can in your answer.
  2. How did lampreys reach the Great Lakes?
  3. What techniques are people using to try to control lampreys in the Great Lakes?
  1. How successful does the hagfish defense seem to be? Why do you think gill clogging is a successful defense? Explain your thinking fully.


  1. What are examples of jawless fish?
  2. What are some characteristics of jawless fish?

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Date Created:

Nov 29, 2012

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Jun 16, 2014
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