A relative of the piranhas with a mythical taste for human flesh was found in a New Jersey lake this weekend, setting off fears about the spread of invasive species.
The fish, thought to be a South American pacu, is known for its teeth, which bear an eerie resemblance to human teeth. Pacus primarily eat plants and are considered mostly harmless to people, despite their kinship with piranhas. But they do occasionally eat other fish and can potentially outcompete native species or spread parasites or disease. (See the scariest freshwater fish.)
Pacus normally ply the waters of the Amazon and other South American river systems, but angler Ron Rossi caught one in Swedes Lake in southern New Jersey over the weekend.
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement: “Many times, these fish are deposited into lakes by pet owners. These fish do not survive in colder water, so we encourage people not to release it into the wild but to humanely destroy the fish.”Pacus are often kept as aquarium pets, though they can grow too large for many people to take care of, at 44 pounds (20 kilos) and three feet (one meter) long. The specimen found in New Jersey appears to be only a few inches long, based on a photo.