In this week’s bizarre animal news, a strange fish has been turning up in lakes across Michigan that has residents baffled. The fish is Piaractus brachypomus, or the red-bellied Pacu. The strange freshwater fish is native to the Amazonian waters of South America and is omnivorous; unlike its carnivorous piranha cousins, the diets of wild Pacu fish are mostly vegetarian.
Photographs of the fish baring its creepy human-like teeth have recently surfaced on social media, shocking Michigan residents amid fears of some new aquatic monster inhabiting local waters. Luckily for them, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued a press release assuring residents that they have nothing to fear from the creepy fish, as it probably won’t survive the brutal Michigan winter:
Pacus have been caught in lakes, ponds or creeks in at least 27 U.S. states. However, there is no evidence that breeding populations have been established in any of these locations. Current climate data indicate this tropical, freshwater fish is unlikely to survive Great Lakes winters, but climate change may increase the possibility.
The fish are thought to have been introduced to Michigan’s waters by aquarium owners who abandoned the Pacu fish as they grew or began eating other fish.
Nick Popoff, manager of the Michigan DNR's Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit, stated in the DNR press release that the fish, while seemingly a harmless pet, could potentially upset Michigan’s aquatic ecosystems:
Those that do succeed in the wild can spread exotic diseases to native animals. In the worst-case scenario, released animals can thrive and reproduce, upsetting natural ecosystems to the degree that these former pets become invasive species. Invasive or not – planting fish of any kind in the waters of the state without a permit is illegal. This includes the release of aquarium fish like pacus and goldfish, as well as farm-raised fish from private ponds.
Thus, the Pacu joins the ranks of anthropogenically-introduced invasive species alongside sewer alligators and Florida's Burmese Pythons. Luckily, the Pacu isn’t presently believed to pose much of a threat to other native species.
In 2013, the creepy Pacu made headlines when a Danish fisherman caught a Pacu and claimed it to be some kind of monster “testicle-eating fish.” Fortunately for men everywhere, these claims have never been substantiated.