Exotic Fish With Teeth Like Human's Found in Tucson Lake

An example of a pacu, a South American fish species known for having teeth like those of a human. | Creative Commons

An Arizona fisherman got a toothy surprise recently when he caught a fish native to South America in Tucson's Silverbell Lake.

As The Arizona Republic and other media outlets reported, Jeff Evans was fishing on the north side of the lake January 12 when he caught a pacu — a fish species known for its teeth, which are uncannily similar to those of a human.

If that seems like the stuff of nightmares ... well, we can understand, especially since pacus are related to piranhas. But pacus mostly eat plants, experts say — even though Evans told The Republic that this pacu tried to bite him a few times.

How did this pacu end up in Silverbell Lake? It likely was dumped there by someone who bought it as a pet, then released it when it grew too large, according to a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Doing so with an invasive species can crowd out the native and stocked fish in a waterway, the department said.

The species is on Game and Fish's list of species that cannot be purchased in Arizona without a permit, but illicit purchases still occur, officials said. One Game and Fish worker said he's seen 10 to 12 pacus caught in the state over his 26-year career.

The department advised anyone in a similar predicament with a pet pacu to find another way to deal with it — such as by returning the pacu to the pet store.

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