1. Freshly caught migrating lampreys were placed in 50% sea water and their method of osmoregulation was analysed. Some osmoregulated more successfully than others.

2. Water balance is maintained by a mechanism involving the drinking of large quantities of water (up to 99.5 ml/kg/day). Sodium, potassium and chloride are absorbed by the intestine (often against a concentration gradient) with the subsequent uptake of water. Divalent ions are not readily absorbed by the intestine and there is some evidence for the secretion of magnesium and sulphate into the gut lumen.

3. The limited urine flow (up to 6.2 ml/kg/day) is used for the excretion of calcium, magnesium and sulphate in high concentrations, but the urine is never hyperosmotic to the blood. The urinary excretion of monovalent ions is not sufficient to eliminate those entering by the intestine and extrarenal excretion at the gills must presumably occur.

4. The breakdown of this osmoregulatory mechanism during the anadromous migration involves: an increase in the permeability of the integument to water, breakdown of the swallowing mechanism which is not dependent upon the occlusion of the alimentary canal, a reduction in the ability to absorb monovalent ions and water from the ingested 50% sea water, and a loss in the large mitochondria-rich ‘chloride output cells’ of the gills.

5. The similarities between the mechanisms of ‘marine’ osmoregulation of lampreys and teleosts are discussed in terms of the evolution of the two groups, and it is concluded that almost identical osmoregulatory mechanisms have evolved independently.

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