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Angler Catches Reputed 'Testicle-Eating' Fish in Michigan Lake

A tropical pacu, a relative of the piranha, was caught in the waters of Lake St. Clair.

Pacu, tropical fish indigenous to the Amazon, have earned what some experts say is an undeserved reputation for eating men’s testicles (Getty images - Jean-Claude Soboul/Moment Open)
Pacu, tropical fish indigenous to the Amazon, have earned what some experts say is an undeserved reputation for eating men’s testicles (Getty images - Jean-Claude Soboul/Moment Open)

Here’s a fish story that can be believed – and that may cause the males among the human species to cross their legs and wear an, er, pained grimace.

A woman fishing with her husband on Lake St. Clair last week caught a 14-inch pacu, a South American relative of the piranha that has a reputation for eating the testicles of fishermen.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirm the 14-inch fish caught by Holley Luft, who was spent July 9 on Lake St. Clair with her husband, Tom, was a pacu, WXYZ, Channel 7, reports.

The Lufts originally thought Holley had reeled in a bluegill until they looked more closely at the toothy fish. Then Tom wondered if it was a piranha and took the catch to the DNR for verification.

State wildlife officials believe the omnivorous fish may have been dumped in the lake after it became too big – they can grow up to 55 pounds in the wild – or aggressive for a home aquarium.

Urban Legend?

How aggressive are pacu?

In 2013, experts warned people, especially men, who skinny dip in Scandinavian waters separating Denmark and Sweden to be on guard because the Brazilian fish had been caught by an amatuer angler, NPR reports.

Henrick Carl, a fish expert at at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, explained the pacu's "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 …” he said.

And it reportedly has. In Papua New Guinea, two men are said to have died of blood loss after the fish bit off their testicles.

“They bite because they’re hungry, and testicles fit nicely in their mouth,” Carl told The Local, Sweden’s English language newspaper.

That report caused Animal Planet to make an expedition to Papua New Guinea for its “River Monsters” program.

Weird Michigan News:

"When I reeled it in, it had this mouth which was surprisingly human-like, it is almost like they have teeth specially made for crushing," Wade told the United Kingdom’s Metro. "They are like human molars and the fish have powerful jaw muscles. They are very deep bodied and solid like a carp, with strong muscles."

All that said, stories that pacu chomp on mens’ crotches are overblown, National Geographic reports.

"All we said last week (with a smile) was that male swimmers should keep their pants on in case there are more pacus out there in our cold Baltic waters," Peter Rask Møller, a fish expert at Denmark's University of Copenhagen, wrote in an email to National Geographic last August.

"Its teeth and powerful bite can for sure be dangerous, but to meet one here and [have it bite you] is highly unlikely, of course."

"A Few Not Nice Words"

Back in Michigan, Holley Luft said she knew she’d caught a big fish, but was surprised when she got a look at its square, human-like teeth on the foot-long catch.

“I am like, holy, yeah I said a few not nice words,” she told WXYZ.

A DNR official the television station interviewed reportedly said that in 20 years on the job he had encountered a half dozen or so similar fish, available for purchase in area aquarium stores.

But he advised people not to dump pacu or any other non-indigenous species into Michigan’s lakes. The tropical fish probably won't survive Michigan's harsh winters, he said.

A similar fish was caught in Illinois last year.

Matt Miller July 18, 2014 at 01:12 AM
Invasive doesn't mean that they migrated there on their own, somehow. In speaking about non-native species, "invasive" means that they are introduced to an area they are not native to and begin using the local resources. Often, they have no natural predators in the new location. The mate and the numbers can increase quickly and dramatically to the point that native species can be starved and die out. If the Pacu cannot survive the Michigan winters, then that would be a big relief. But if they have survived in the area between Denmark and Sweden, then I would be concerned. Look at the python problem in the Everglades of Florida...began as pet escapes.
Rollo Tomasi July 20, 2014 at 06:51 PM
Looks like my Ex....
KELLI July 21, 2014 at 10:27 AM
They are in Scandinavian waters, so your comment about them not surviving the cold is debunked...
Dorky Boy July 21, 2014 at 11:05 AM
First off, Pacu are tropical fish, and will not survive the winter in Lake St. Clair. Secondly Pacu are herbivores and there has never been a case of a Pacu biting a man tecticle's. The rumour of that got started when one was found in Denmark. The author of the the story wrote that in the story as a joke. Source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/10/world/europe/scandanavia-swim-warning
Sage on the Hudson July 21, 2014 at 12:45 PM
How would a fresh water fish native to South America end up in waters of Papua New Guinea, or in the Baltic, of all places? NONE of these stories are to be believed. NONE.

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