A preteen boy doing some backyard fishing in a neighborhood pond in Oklahoma recently reeled in an unexpected species: an invasive pacu fish.
Charlie Clinton, 11, grinned for the camera with the strange-looking invasive in a Facebook post from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The pacu fish is a South American fish closely related to a piranha.
They can grow longer than three feet and up to almost ninety pounds. They are an exotic, invasive species that can cause damage to local ecosystems, according to the ODWC. Anglers who catch Pacu in Oklahoma are asked to remove them from the watershed and contact their local game warden.
Janna Clinton, the boy's mother, said he caught the pacu using just a piece of bread for bait.
"He said it put up a heck of a fight," she told NPR. "He was the only one down there fishing and he did a great job."
The pacu fish, and its notorious meat-eating cousin, the piranha, both originate from the same subfamily Serrasalminae, although they have different eating habits. The piranha is a carnivore and eats meat. The pacu is omnivorous, so while it too eats meat, most of its diet is made up of plants. These differences are evident while looking at the structure of their teeth. Piranha have pointed, razor-sharp teeth whereas pacu have squarer, straighter teeth, that eerily resemble those of humans.
While there have been some documented cases of fatal piranha attacks, the threat to humans is low. The threat to humans from the invasive pacu fish is even lower.
"Non-native pacu in Oklahoma waters are most likely the result of individuals buying them as pets, and releasing them when they outgrow their tank," the ODWC said. "These fish are generally harmless to humans, but the practice of dumping unwanted pets in waterways can be incredibly harmful to native wildlife."
As for Clinton, the ODWC said he is already back at the pond, trying to reel in his next great catch.