On a Sunday in July, Janna Clinton of Oklahoma was relaxing on her porch while watching her son, then 11 years old, fish in the pond behind their house.
She jumped up from her chair and raced to her son, who was in horror over the beast on the end of his fishing line when Charlie started screaming for her.
Read on to learn about the rare pacu Charlie reeled in.
The Clintons’ backyard pond is a popular site for local kids to catch and release bass and catfish.
On the weekend of July 14, however, Charlie used a piece of bread to catch an unusual-looking creature before calling his mother, Janna.
“He was screaming, ‘Oh my God, mom! Oh my God!’” the mother said. “I thought he was just being dramatic, to be honest.”
She examined the capture more closely and saw that it had teeth just like those of a human.
“Obviously being in a neighborhood pond, we’re used to just catching a few bass or catfish…I mean, nothing with human-like teeth,” she clarified, before noting that the fish was rather combative. “(Charlie) said it put up a heck of a fight. He was the only one down there fishing and he did a great job.”
When locals viewed the photo the Clintons uploaded of the strange fish on their neighborhood Facebook page, they had the following reactions: One person exclaimed, “THOSE ARE HUMAN TEETH,” while another wrote, “What in the world!?! That’s creepy!”
Some people have suggested that the family try contacting animals. “That is most definitely not a catch and release! Thank you for taking it seriously,” said one resident while another shares, “You may need to report that to somebody in wildlife or something…”
The family returned the fish to the pond before contacting wildlife officials to report their strange catch. “It’s a catch and release pond…so we unfortunately did release it back because we didn’t know any better at the time,” Janna said. “We made a mistake there.”
Charlie’s catch was identified as a pacu, a South American fish related to the piranha.
The pacu is largely vegetarian, with square teeth and a small overbite, in contrast to its omnivorous relatives, which have sharp teeth and an underbite.
Wildlife experts are still scratching their heads about how it ended up in a pond in a suburb north of Oklahoma City, but they assume it was a pet that outgrew its tank and was released.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) took to Twitter to express their displeasure at the previous owner, writing, “Dear, whoever released an entire Pacu (a South American fish closely related to Piranha) into a NEIGHBORHOOD pond; how dare you.”
Dear, whoever released an entire Pacu (a South American fish closely related to Piranha) into a NEIGHBORHOOD pond;— Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (@OKWildlifeDept) July 18, 2023
how dare you. pic.twitter.com/WwQqJ9REAz
Many in the online community were taken aback by the Tweet’s incisiveness, and the topic quickly spread.
“WHY DOES IT HAVE HUMAN TEETH,” one confused user asked.
“IDK WE DIDN’T MAKE THEM,” replied ODWC, that delivered another message: “Your fish was caught by Charlie Clinton. He is 11. DO NOT RELEASE YOUR PETS. THEY ARE AN EXOTIC, INVASIVE SPECIES THAT CAN CAUSE DAMAGE TO OUR LOCAL ECOSYSTEMS.” This could cause a terrible situation that would be bad for the environment.
A pacu had previously been caught in the state of Oklahoma. Less than two hours from the Clintons, in July of 2018, 11-year-old Kennedy Smith caught a pacu in Marina Cove at Ft. Cobb Lake.
A warning was sent by the Oklahoma Game Wardens at the time via Facebook, reading as follows: “…Pacu have been caught in a few fisheries in Oklahoma before. The introduction of the non-native pacu into Oklahoma waters is most likely from individuals buying them as pets and releasing them when they outgrow the tank they were raised in. Pacu can reach sizes up to 3.5 feet and 88 pounds.”
Even though pacu aren’t a threat to people, their appearance has earned them the frightening moniker “the ball cutters.”
Warnings were made to Swedish nude swimmers in 2011 after the discovery of a pacu in the Oresund Sound.
According to fish expert Henrik Carl, “There have been incidents in other countries such as Papau New Guinea, where some men have had their testicles bitten off,” and some fisherman have bled to death as a result.
Carl continued: “They bite because they’re hungry, and testicles sit nicely in their mouth…” He added, “It normally eats nuts, fruit and small fish, but human testicles are just a natural target.”
Charlie, meanwhile, has been chasing the pacu at the pond in Oklahoma in an attempt to bait it for the final time.
“He did stay at the ponds pretty late that night trying to catch it again,” Janna said of her son, who is fishing from dawn till dusk in the hopes of reeling in a big catch. “If he catches it again, we’re going to get it mounted for him. I think that’s a heck of a prize and he deserves it…I told him we’d make it look like the fish was smiling so you could see its teeth.”
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One spooky fish is the pacu. But we still feel bad for the animal, which was taken from its home and subsequently released when its owner could no longer care for it.
There are a number of reasons why this is not a safe practice, but chief among them is the harm it does to the environment.
What do you think of the “ball cutter?”
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