Fishing Freshwater

Kid Catches Fish with Human-Like Teeth in an Oklahoma Pond

Game wardens thanked Charlie Clinton for killing and keeping the South American pacu
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Oklahoma pacu

Charlie Clinton holds up the red-bellied pacu he pulled from a neighborhood pond. Courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation reports that a young angler caught an unusual fish from a neighborhood pond over the weekend. The short, bream-shaped fish had human-like teeth and looked a lot like its close cousin, the red piranha. Charlie Clinton’s catch turned out to be a red-bellied pacu, which is another South American species that is occasionally pulled from U.S. waterways.

Officials believe someone released the pacu into the pond. The toothy invaders are a popular aquarium species and once they outgrow their tanks, they’re often dumped illegally into local waterways, where they can easily take hold and negatively impact native fish populations. They’ve been caught from a few different fisheries in Oklahoma before. Because they’re “an exotic, invasive species that can cause damage to local ecosystems,” the ODWC asks anglers to kill any pacu they catch.

“Dear, whoever released an entire Pacu (a South American fish closely related to Piranha) into a NEIGHBORHOOD pond;” ODWC wrote in a Twitter post Tuesday, “how dare you.”

Although they look similar to their carnivorous cousins, pacu are actually omnivores that feed on a variety of bugs, nuts, and vegetation. This means they’re more of a threat to native fish populations than humans.

Their teeth should still be respected, though. Just ask Sandra Whaley, whose 11-year-old granddaughter caught a one-pound pacu from Oklahoma’s Fort Cobb Lake in 2018. While unhooking the fish, it bit Whaley’s hand (luckily the bite was minor.)

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These hearty fish from the Amazon can be found in several other U.S. states, including South Carolina and especially Florida—where they thrive in the warm water canals and lakes along with other exotic species like peacock bass. Pacu have even been caught as far north as Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. Most of these catches were panfish-sized, but pacu can grow much larger, reaching up to 90 pounds and over three feet in length, according to ODWC.