GROWING up can be a killer if you happen to be a prehistoric creature who's more than a little bit strange.
A new species of lamprey, thought to be up to 500 million years old, was discovered in a sub-catchment of the Noosa River three years ago but only recently has been identified positively.
Its first three to four years are spent sightless in larval form on the bottom of a creek, filtering microscopic algae from the water.
A process of metamorphosis brings it to adulthood when it spawns but it doesn't eat, leading to death within eight months.
The new species was discovered during routine Healthy Waterways testing.
After exhaustive study, the lamprey was found to be older still than our other living fossil, the lung fish.
Lamprey are commonly found on the south-east Australian coast, starting below Sydney, and extending to a similar latitude in Western Australia.
The creatures discovered in the Noosa River are thought to have shifted north in the first of two waves of colonisation three to six million years ago.
Changes in sea level at different points of history saw rivers join. Cut off when levels again changed, the Noosa River lamprey developed into their current form.
The discovery became a project for David Moffatt, the principal environmental officer for the state's Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Health division.
"Because we have good quality-assurance systems, when there is any doubt about the identity of a fish, it is taken and examined," he said yesterday.
He had on his hands what scientists referred technically as an LBT or little, brown thing.
"They're very primitive and it's hard to distinguish them from their external characteristics," he said.
It was only through molecular genetics and mitochondrial DNA that his team could be convinced it had discovered a new species.
The creatures grow to only 6-7cm long and initially only one or two a year were found.
However, once scientists zeroed in on its habitat which occupies only 20% of the Noosa River, they found hundreds of the creatures.
Living fossils Lamprey have simplified versions of human organs, making them ideal for medical research.
Fossils dated to 360 million years ago. Thought to have been in existence 500 million years ago.
New species also found at Tin Can Bay.