Invasive fish with human-like teeth found in New Jersey

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

A pair of New Jersey anglers recently captured an unusual fish with human-like teeth believed to be a South American species known as the Pacu, leading area residents to worry about the spread of an invasive species and a particularly nasty myth about the Pacu.

According to WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, the fish was caught by Ron Rossi and his son Frank at Swedes Lake in southern New Jersey last weekend, and based on its appearance, they believed at first that it might have been a piranha. Instead, it turned out to be a cousin of the piranha called a Pacu, which is a native Amazonian omnivore.

While National Geographic reports that Pacu are considered to be mostly harmless to people, the creatures do occasionally eat other fish and have the potential to outcompete native species. They can also spread diseases or parasites. So how did this South American fish make it to New Jersey? It is believed to have been a pet released into Swedes Lake by its former owner.

Pacus, the website explained, are frequently kept as aquarium pets and can grow to be too large for people to take care of, reaching up to three feet in length and weighing more than 40 pounds by adulthood. They are also unable to survive in colder water, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection said, and thus should not be released in lakes.

Do Pacu have a taste for human testicles?

As an interesting side note to the story, Nat Geo explains that Pacus have been associated with an unusual myth that makes them especially unpopular with men. The story claims that the fish has a tendency to target human testicles, confusing them with tree nuts. Some experts have even told men to make sure that their swim trunks are tied tightly to avoid any nasty mishaps.

Peter Rask Møller, a fish expert at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, told the website that while there have been a handful of incidents in which Pacus bit people, concerns that they target humans (and men in particular) have been exaggerated. “Its teeth and powerful bite can for sure be dangerous,” Møller said, “but to [have it bite you] is highly unlikely.”

The stories originate from the death of two men in New Guinea in 2011, both of whom had lost their testicles. “Information on the alleged incident is scarce and secondhand,” however, said Nat Geo. Lars Skou Olsen, curator of Copenhagen’s Blue Planet Aquarium, said that the stories of the Pacu’s purported taste for testicles is “just a rumor,” and Zeb Hogan, a fish biologist from the University of Nevada, said that the creatures “are not dangerous to humans.”

This is a situation where it’s better to be safe than sorry.


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