British swimmers, at least the male ones, are nervous this week after a report that an Amazonian fish sometimes called the “ball cutter” due to its reputation for eating human testicles was caught in the Seine River, the iconic waterway that runs through Paris.
The breed of fish, whose actual name is pacu, sports a powerful set of human-like teeth and in South America, where the pacu has its natural habitat, legends persist of men bleeding to death from the hungry fish biting off their scrota.
After a pacu was reeled in off the waters of Denmark earlier in August, one expert on the fish, Henrik Carl, explained, “The pacu is not normally dangerous to people but it has quite a serious bite. They bite because they’re hungry, and testicles sit nicely in their mouth."
He said that in Papua New Guinea, where the pacu has been artificially introduced to bolster available resources of fish, there have been reports of testicle consumption by the breed.
However, other scientists say that male swimmers have nothing to fear, that concerns about the Pacu are blown out of proportion and that their earlier warnings for men to keep their swim trunks tightly tied were meant as a joke.
"Its teeth and powerful bite can for sure be dangerous, but to meet one here and [have it bite you] is highly unlikely, of course,” said Rask Møller, a scientist at the University of Copenhagen who issued the earlier warning, he said, "with a smile."
"There's no need for swimmers to worry at all,” added Skou Olsen, curator of a Copenhagen aquarium. “They will be lucky if they see [a pacu]."
The pacu is closely related to the piranha, and an expert on piranha at the University of Minnesota says that there is no record of pacu biting humans, in the testicles or elsewhere.
"They're fruit eaters. Those big crushing teeth they have is for crushing seeds," said researcher William Fink.
SOURCES: The Independent, CNN, National Geographic