When it comes to stocking up on material for nightmares, it's hard to beat this photo of what appears to be a monstrous sea lamprey.
Reddit user jlitch uploaded the picture in mid-February with the deceptively innocent tagline, "Friend... caught this fishing in NJ."
Perhaps most frightening, the rings teeth of displayed in the photo have a very clear purpose: Sea lampreys latch onto their prey, then secrete digestive fluids that slowly eat away and break down the host. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission reports a sea lamprey can be expected to kill upwards of 40 pounds of fish over the course of its life. Survival rates for particular species of host fish can be as low as 15 percent.
Unfortunately, we can't be completely certain this photo really does depict a sea lamprey. "The photo doesn't allow counting of gill openings (seven per side for sea lampreys), but based on size alone, this does appear to be a sea lamprey,” a New York Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman told Outside Magazine, according to the New York Daily News.
The species typically grows to 2.5 feet in length, but some sea lampreys have been documented at sizes of up to 3 feet long, reports the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
Sea lampreys are a native to the Atlantic Ocean and are found along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and the coast of Europe, as well as in the Great Lakes, where it is considered an invasive species.
The New York Daily News adds that appearances of sea lampreys in New Jersey have increased recently, as officials have begun to remove old dams, thus easing the creature's progress upriver.
PHOTO of the sea lamprey [via Reddit]: