The other night, I was watching, “You Only Live Twice”, in my living room; a 1967 James Bond Film starring Sean Connery. Towards the end of the film, Bond comes face to face with one of his biggest arch enemies; Ernst Stavro Blowfeld who is the head of SPECTRE. In one sequence of the movie, Bond is taken to Blowfeld’s private residence where he has to walk across a bridge that spans a pond full of piranhas. Hans, one of Blowfeld’s henchman, ties a haunch of meat to a rope and tosses it into the water. Bond watches apprehensively as the fish swarm around the meat; bubbles rising to the surface in a frenzy.
“As you can see….my piranha fish can get quite hungry. They can strip a man to the bone in sixty seconds.”
What is the true nature of these fish? Why are they so feared in movies, books and television shows? In Brazil, I was able to get up close and personal with these aquatic creatures while traveling along the Amazon. As mentioned in my previous article, “An Amazon Adventure”, I had the awesome opportunity to fish for piranhas one of our last days there. We traveled to a tributary just off the main waterway where the water was quiet and quite muddy. We attached small, raw pieces of meat to fishing poles made of bamboo and string. We were told to cast the bait out into the water and then splash the poles on the surface to attract the piranha’s attention. As the bait slowly settled to the bottom, we would get a bit on our hooks and, as quickly as we could, we would pull up the struggling fish. Thankfully no one was bitten as we worked on releasing the fish from the hooks and putting them back in the water.
In order to settle the score with the fearsome reputation of these fish, here are five facts about piranhas from the Smithsonian website. I have written the facts in my own words so as not to anger the copyright gods.
1. Even though President Theodore Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents, he didn’t exactly think piranhas were the greatest fish. In 1913, he traveled to Brazil on a visit and wrote a rather negative commentary on the mean nature of these aquatic animals. He wrote later that he witnessed a group of piranhas eating a “moo-ster”. It was later revealed that this specific grouping of piranhas had been fished out of the river, put in a storage holding for a time with no sustenance and then Bessie was tossed into their natural habitat after they were let go. If I was a piranha that had not eaten in a long time, I would devour a cow too.
2. The tooth fairy loves piranhas! The name piranha comes from the Tupi language in Brazil that means,”tooth-fish”. A single row of interlocking teeth is what adults have in the form of the tooth’s location in the mouth. Piranhas, just like sharks, constantly lose and replace their teeth all throughout their lifetime. However, while sharks only loose one tooth at a time, piranhas lose four teeth at a time! The tooth fairy would be a millionaire if she capitalized on the piranha tooth market!
3. Its bark is not worse than its bite. These fish pack quite a punch when it comes to grabbing onto their food. The largest species of piranha (there are an estimated twenty species in all) was studied and found to (bite with a maximum force of 72 pounds which is about three times their body weight). But that is only the tip of the iceberg! Modern-day piranhas had a prehistoric ancestor, Megapiranha paranensis, that (weighed twenty two pounds and was able to exert an estimated 1,068 pounds of force; fifty times its body weight!).
4. I went swimming in the Amazon and was NEVER attacked by a gang of piranhas. You have probably seen too many movies if you think a bunch of piranhas can tear an adult human to pieces. Small animals that include capybaras, the world’s largest rodent, have appeared on the piranha menu but only when they have been gravely ill or injured. The same goes for humans who have suffered a serious injury or disease and then have drowned in a piranhas habitat. But the bites that are inflicted on drowning victims is only small fry. According to experts, (it would take up to 500 piranhas to de-flesh a full grown human in five minutes.).
5. Piranhas are tasty! I never actually ate these fish during our time in Brazil, but many Brazilians consider them to either be an (aphrodisiac) or (taboo). In the Pantanal region of Brazil, a dishful of piranha soup will do nicely….or just put em’ on the grill, add a few roasted tomatoes, plop onto a banana leaf and garnish with lime. Eat your heart out Mario Batali!
If I have stirred your curiosity about these fish, check out other cool piranha facts on the Smithsonian website under the article, “14 Fun Facts about Piranhas” by Helen Thompson. And if you ever get the chance, fly down to the Amazon and check these guys out! If myself and ten other people can fish for piranhas with bamboo poles and raw meat, you can too! Happy fishing!
1. Thompson, Helen. “14 Fun Facts About Piranhas”. Smithsonian. World Wide Web. http://www.smithsonian.com/science-nature/14-fun-facts-about-piranhas-180951948/?no-iat. 8 July, 2014. Accessed 30 March, 2015
1-2. Julie Cremer