Who’s hungry? A Human Smorgasbord for Flesh-eating Piranha!

Swarm of carnivorous piranha attacked hundreds of bathers!

Photo © Animal-World.com, Courtesy Ken Childs

Christmas was a very warm day along the Parana River near Rosario, Argentina. Hundreds of city dwellers were trying to escape the 100-degree weather in the cooler waters of a popular beach about 300 kilometers north of Buenos Aires. But then, they began to notice bite marks on their hands and feet.

A swarm of carnivorous fish attacked hundreds of bathers, sending around 70 people to local clinics and emergency rooms for treatment.

The local Director of lifeguards, Federico Cornier, told reporters from BBC and other broadcasters in the area “it’s normal for there to be an isolated bite or injury, but the magnitude in this case was great… This is an exceptional event.”

A man is treated at a clinic in Rosario, Argentina, after a school of flesh-eating palometas, a type of piranha, attacked swimmers cooling off in the Parana River on Christmas Day. As per LA Times “Flesh-eating fish attack swimmers in Argentine river; 70 injured” (Silvina Salinas / Associated Press Photo/ December 25, 2013)

Cornier said that the fish responsible for the attacks were “palometas”, a type of piranha with large sharp teeth. Dozens of people had their extremities attacked. Paramedic Alberto Manino, speaking with the Associated Press, said that some children he had treated had lost entire digits!

The term ‘palometa’ is a common name used for several types of fish. This includes the Piranha, but it is also used for a Caribbean gamefish Trachinotus goodie and a Western Atlantic fish, the Maracaibo Leatherjacket Oligoplites palometa.

The Piranhas belong to a sub-family called the Serrasalminae, or the ‘serrated salmon family’ consisting of around 60 species. The unmistakable trademark features of the Piranha are their triangular, razor sharp teeth. As described in Piranha: Story of the Piranha Fish from Predator to Prey, these teeth enable them to ‘slice off pieces of meat, fins or scales, literally taking apart their prey piece by piece.’

The palometa that attacked these bathers is most likely the Red Piranha Pygocentrus nattereri, also called the Red-bellied Piranha. This is a very widespread species, occurring in several river basins of South American. Although it typically grows between about 3 to 9 1/2 inches (8-24 cm) in length, one specimen was reported at a whooping 19 1/2 inches (50 cm).

Keeping the Red Piranha in the aquarium is truly a fascination. In the wild the Red Piranha lives in large schools. This type of school is not usually possible in an aquarium, but with the proper environment these fish will show some traits of their wild behavior. In nature the largest fish is the ‘alpha’ animal and in the aquarium it is the most aggressive and bold. The alpha fish will dominate the best spaces in the tank and will basically own the feeding ritual. All other members are subordinate and will take on the traits of servants. Any unwilling ‘servants’ will be quickly and aggressively put in their place by the alpha fish!

Clarice Brough is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and animal species write-ups.

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