Holley Luft was fishing with her husband at Michigan’s Lake St. Claire last week when she reeled in an unusual-looking fish. At first she thought it was a bluegill, a panfish common to North America, but then she opened its mouth and saw big, human-like teeth. Luft had caught herself a pacu, aka “the ball cutter.”
Native to South America, the omnivorous freshwater fish is usually found in the Amazon and the rivers of Papua New Guinea. However, the pacu find in Michigan is just the most recent sighting in U.S. waterways, where aquarium owners allegedly dump the fish after finding them too big or too aggressive. In addition to Luft’s 14-inch specimen, pacus have been found in Illinois and New Jersey in recent years.
A relative of the piranha, the pacu’s regular diet consists of tree nuts, but it has also been known to eat human flesh—leading to its sullied reputation for testicle chomping. When a wild pacu was found in waters off Denmark, Henrik Carl of the Natural History Museum of Denmark warned male swimmers to keep their trunks tied tight. “They bite because they’re hungry, and testicles sit nicely in their mouths,” he said. “And its mouth is not so big, so of course it normally eats nuts, fruit and small fish, but human testicles are just a natural target. It’s not normal to get your testicles bitten off, of course, but it can happen.”
While his comments were meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, the predilection is not completely unfounded. Two men in Papua New Guinea allegedly died in 2011 after pacus castrated them, and a toddler required surgery when one of the fish (originally misreported to be a piranha) bit her finger at Scottish wildlife center in 2004.
Our takeaway? Dangling bits beware.