Human-Toothed Fish Found in Texas

Status: Weird (but probably true) news
image A Lubbock, Texas news station has reported that a local fisherman recently caught a fish that seems to have human teeth:
Fisherman Scott Curry reeled in the 20-pound fish on Buffalo Springs Lake and immediately noticed the catch had human-like teeth. A game warden photographed the fish and is attempting to identify it. General Manager of Buffalo Springs Lake Greg Thornton told KLBK13-TV in Texas that he has never seen anything like the fish in the 36 years he has lived near the lake.
The leading theory is that the fish is a Pacu, about which Wikipedia has this entry:
The Pacu is a common name used to refer to several species of South American freshwater fish that are closely related to the Piranha. They are vegetarian or omnivorous and are commonly kept as aquarium pets. They have unusual teeth, which strangely resemble human teeth, which they use to crush seeds that fall into the water. Pacus have been illegally introduced as exotic species throughout the world into freshwater habitats, including discoveries in the United States in Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and Texas.
I'm hoping that Big Gary (as the MoH's fish expert) may be able to shed some light on this.


Posted on Thu Jul 20, 2006


OK, here goes--

"Pacu" usually refers to any of the several species of the genus Colossoma. Several of these, such as the black pacu, the white pacu, and the red-bellied pacu, are commonly sold in pet stores and aquarium shops.

Although it's hard to identify the fish in the photo from the camera angle, I'd say its face does look like a pacu's. However, pacu teeth don't look especially like human teeth to me, except that they are bigger than most fish teeth.

Pacus are Characoid fishes, in the same family as piranhas and silver dollars, but, as the Wikipedia entry says, their main diet is fruit and seeds (much of this food apparently falls into the water from overhanging trees). In their native lands (South America), pacus are prized as food fishes because their fruit diet supposedly gives their flesh a sweet, mild flavor.

It should be said that the pacu makes a singularly bad choice for an aquarium pet. This is because it grows to a length of three feet or more and a bulk of 100 pounds or so (it's a very deep-bodied fish). Many novice aquarists don't realize this when they buy 1-inch or 2-inch-lon babies at the local pet shop. No matter how big their fish tanks are, almost nobody has a tank big enough for this fish (and no, it WON'T stay small if you keep it in a small tank!). It could live in a large pond outdoors, but only if you live in the tropics (pacus live in very warm water).

So the fish-keeper keeps and feeds (and feeds and feeds) the cute little pacu until it outgrows the home aquarium. Then the owner starts trying to find the pet a new home. The aquarium shop doesn't want it back, since it now takes up a lot of tank space and nobody's going to buy a fish that size. The local public aquarium doesn't want it, since its "Amazon" display already has all the pacus it can use, donated previously by other impulse buyers whose pets outgrew their tanks.

So what does the fishkeeper do? Well, the options for most people are:
1. Have a fish fry for the whole neighborhood (assuming you'e never used any medications in the aquarium, since few of these are approved for food fish), or
2. Release the pacu into a local river or lake. This course of action is illegal almost everywhere, since a fish of this size could easily wreak havoc on the lake or river's ecology, and the aquarium hobby considers it highly unethical to release any exotic animal or plant into the wild, but people still do it. If the fish caught at Buffalo Springs Lake was indeed a pacu, this is probably how it got there. Pacus would probably not survive the winter in Lubbock (south Texas would be a different story), but they could eat their way through a whole lot of the lake's flora and fauna before the first hard freeze comes along.

Pacus are kind of charming in their own way, so if you do have an aquarium of, oh, 2,000 gallons or more capacity, I can recommend them. If you don't leave them in South America.
Posted by Big Gary, MoHDCicoF  in  Glen Ellyn, Illinois  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  07:11 AM
Pacu is delicious!
Posted by Bruno  in  Macap  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  08:35 AM
Thanks, Gary. It seems as if Pacu are fairly well known. Which makes it a little odd that this fish was treated like such a mystery.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  09:15 AM
I'm not sure, but I think that Donald Rumsfeld is a fish-toothed human. I could be wrong... maybe he's Not human, more like a Pacu-Pinhead mutation. I am pretty sure, however, that Dick Cheney is a Reptoid. No doubt
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  09:34 AM
Harry, I please do not insult me or other reptiles by comparing us to Penis Cheney. Just because he is cold-blooded, does not mean that he is a reptile.
tongue rolleye
Posted by Lounge Lizard  in  El Paso, Tx  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  11:15 AM
They also enjoy bananas when they reach a sizable size.
Posted by mazinga  in  Southeastern Arizona, U.S. of A.  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  01:05 PM
Alex, Pacus are very well known in the aquarium hobby, but people fishing in U.S. lakes (except maybe in Florida) would have no reason to be familiar with them, since they are not native to North America. There may be resident populations in a few Florida waters by now, since a lot of exotic freshwater fish have been introduced there (often unintentionally), and southern Florida winters are probably warm enough for the Pacus to survive. People catch them once in a while in other states, but probably all of those have been introduced since the previous winter and would not survive the next winter.

People who see them for the first time often mistake them for piranhas, since they have roughly the same body shape and general appearance, but, as we said before, Piranhas are (mostly) carnivores while Pacus are (mostly) herbivores.
Posted by Big Gary  in  Glen Ellyn, Illinois  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  01:45 PM
Thank you Lounge Lizard, I do agree.
Posted by StarLizard  in  Quebec, Canada  on  Thu Jul 20, 2006  at  03:26 PM
Yuk - are they dangerous to humans?
Posted by Wholesale Guy  in  London  on  Fri Jul 21, 2006  at  05:35 AM
Wholesale Guy sez:
"Yuk - are they dangerous to humans?"

Do you mean Pacus? They won't attack people. You might get bitten removing one from a fishhook (as with any fish ahving teeth),but they are considered a very desirable catch because, as Bruno in Macapa says, they taste good, and they have a lot of meat.
Posted by Big Gary, MoHDCicoF  in  Glen Ellyn, Illinois  on  Fri Jul 21, 2006  at  07:23 AM
Big Gary, You are a God of fish!
Posted by stork  in  the aquarium  on  Fri Jul 21, 2006  at  05:37 PM
I lived in the amazon many years my family still does, This pacu is one known as a tam-ba-key (phonetic english spelling)mostly found in the larger rivers, amazon, rio negro, very good eating can get to a large size 10 to 15 lbs on average. I was suprised to see this fish in buffalo someone had to have put it in there for sure. When I am in Brasil I fish for them with a cane pole using a small piece of banana for bait using the pole like a fly rod. They give quite a good fight when catching them.
Posted by Vic  in  lubbock  on  Sat Jul 22, 2006  at  07:43 AM
Sorry to burst your bubble but this is definantly NOT a Pacu.
It is a mysterious Human-Toothed Fish.
Posted by Jumster  in  Poland  on  Mon Jul 24, 2006  at  07:38 PM
Has anyone else seen the video on the link?

Poor fish is gagging for some water, and instead has his mouth pulled about by some strange humans.. probably thinks they are after its teath....

put it back in the water!
Posted by Lucy  in  Jersey, Channel Islands  on  Tue Jul 25, 2006  at  05:58 AM
We don't get many hard freezes in North Texas, so I'm wondering if a fish like that could survive through the winter. It's very rare for an open body of water to even get surface frost down here, let alone a layer of ice. Just curious.
Posted by Bonnie  in  Fort Worth, TX  on  Tue Jul 25, 2006  at  07:52 PM
I caught one of these pacu on july 8th 2006 at the snook haven campground in venice florida. It was 20 to 22lbs. I was by myself fishing while my husband was napping and our neighbors were down at there sight. This monster was dragging my line down the river and I started screaming.
I finally got it, but it was bigger than our net. I kept it long enought to get pictures. When we got home we sent to pictures to a rarefish finder and he said it was a pacu! It was the coolest thing I'd ever caught!
Posted by Lori Wells  in  bradenton florida  on  Wed Jul 26, 2006  at  09:21 AM
I have a 55 gallon with red belly pacu's in it and they are doing fine for now however when they start to grow bigger i plan on releasing them into a fresh water atmospere so they can have as much space as they need
Posted by Jared  in  Florida  on  Sun Jun 03, 2007  at  02:43 PM
Makes me wonder what other kind of fish are in buffalo lake
Posted by angela  in  lubbock  on  Sat May 21, 2011  at  05:54 AM
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