Last weekend, Janna Clinton was enjoying a peaceful moment on her back porch, keeping an eye on her 11-year-old son, Charlie, as he fished in the pond behind their Oklahoma home. Suddenly, Charlie’s excitement echoed through the air, calling his mother over in a rush.
“He was screaming, ‘Oh my God, Mom! Oh my God!'” Clinton recalled, admitting she initially brushed it off as mere drama.
However, when she reached Charlie and saw his curious catch, she couldn’t help but share his amazement. “We’re used to catching bass or catfish in our neighborhood pond, but nothing with human-like teeth,” she remarked in astonishment.
Charlie had landed a pacu, a close relative of piranhas, known for its large, menacing teeth that have often instilled fear among swimmers. Although native to South America, this particular pacu had found its way to the small pond in Clinton’s suburban area, just north of Oklahoma City.
Janna told NPR that her son managed to reel in the fish all on his own, describing how it put up quite a fight. The family was intrigued by the unusual catch and shared a photo of the fish on their neighborhood Facebook page, seeking some insights. They also got in touch with a game warden, but before learning that the fish was invasive, they decided to release it back into the water, adhering to the pond’s catch-and-release policy.
Regrettably, some neighbors later recognized the fish and informed the family that the pacu should not have been released. Acknowledging their mistake, Janna expressed, “We made a mistake there.”
Since then, Charlie has been on a mission to catch the elusive pacu once more. “He did stay at the ponds pretty late that night trying to catch it again,” Janna said, adding that her son has been waking up early and staying late by the pond, hoping to get another bite from the pacu.
In the event of Charlie’s success, a neighbor has offered to cook and eat the pacu, but Janna has different plans. She wants to have it mounted as a prize for her son. “I think that’s a heck of a prize, and he deserves it,” she said, laughing. “I told him we’d make it look like the fish was smiling so you could see its teeth.”
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, on the other hand, blames a pet owner for the presence of the pacu in the pond, suspecting that it outgrew its tank and was released into the wild. They took to Twitter to express their disapproval, setting off a lively exchange with surprised members of the public.
Pacu sightings in Oklahoma are not unheard of. Five years ago, another 11-year-old, Kennedy Smith from Lindsay, Okla., also caught a pacu, revealing that these fish are not uncommon in the region. The wildlife agency emphasized that pacus are generally harmless to humans, but the practice of dumping unwanted pets into waterways poses a significant threat to native wildlife.
The pacu, notorious for its creepy appearance, has earned an unsettling nickname: “the ball cutter,” stemming from rumors of attacks on men’s testicles. However, fish experts clarify that the pacu primarily consumes nuts and seeds from fruit trees and plants, with a mild and slightly sweet flavor. While their feeding behavior includes “bite events” similar to true piranhas, they remain generally harmless to humans.
Despite the pacu’s rumored unsettling behavior, catching one is no easy task, as they are known to be very elusive. British fisherman Jeremy Wade, who once caught a 40-pound pacu in Papua New Guinea, described their unique mouth structure as being “surprisingly human-like, almost like they have teeth specially made for crushing.”
As Charlie continues his pursuit, the Clinton family has learned a valuable lesson about invasive species and the importance of responsible pet ownership. The wildlife agency advises anyone who catches a pacu to keep the fish and contact a game warden to ensure its proper handling and protection of native wildlife.