Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lampetra immanis

Star lamprey to remain in local zoo

TUCSON — Bing the mammoth brook lamprey isn’t moving, and funnyman Beau Runtfoyle is not amused.

On Tuesday, the Public Works Committee approved the completion of a $44 million semi-aquatic enclosure that will retain the iconic marine parasite as a fixture at the city zoo, despite opposition by the semi-retired comedian (and longtime Tucson resident) and other high-profile locals.

The approval was announced after a crowded public hearing, where Mr. Runtfoyle reiterated his earlier pledge of $1.4 million to relocate Bing to a sanctuary along the Colorado River.

By far the largest of the Petromyzontidae family, the mammoth brook lamprey spends only its larval years in brooks or streams, moving to wide rivers when mature.

Its large mass drives it to seek out wading mammals over fish, especially young horses and deer. It often applies its rasping mouth to a bodily orifice and works its way inside the host, making quicker work of it than a smaller lamprey could manage.

As the zoo’s unofficial mascot and the subject of picture books and stuffed toys, Bing’s listless behavior over the past year received steady media scrutiny.

He became reluctant to feed, even when a pair of whitetail fawns were introduced to his enclosure.

His minders found a solution whereby a live fawn’s legs were severed at the joints and it was lowered vertically by crane into the habitat. The flow of blood in the water finally roused Bing to feast.

Mr. Runtfoyle’s camp has pointed to this incident as evidence that Bing is essentially unhappy here are and requires more open space to swim in.

“It’s mean to the lamprey to keep him away from a big river where he wants to be,” said Mr. Runtfoyle’s 6 year-old son Zack in a prepared statement.

He stated that fans of the jawless, cartilaginous, one-nostriled celebrity would rather see him happy and healthy in a remote reserve upstate than sad and cooped up downtown for convenience’s sake.

He said that the kids of Tucson want what’s best for Bing because they love him. “He has googly eyes,” remarked the child by way of closing.

Opponents have noted that several eel-like predators have perished prematurely at the zoo since 1974, but zoo officials insist they will be significantly better equipped following the new changes.

The new, cutaway-view "Visible Riverbed" will be seven times larger than the current exhibit.

The Associated Press
(Retrieved: 01.29.2009)