Fish with teeth are old news. After all, we all grew up thinking piranhas were going to be a much bigger problem in our daily lives. That said, it never gets old when someone finds a pacu – think piranha, but with dentures.
The human-like teeth of pacu have seen them circulate in the press time and time again, sometimes accompanied by a bizarre ball-biting myth (more on this later). Most recently, one such toothy fish was found by Oklahoma resident Charlie, 11, in a pond behind his family home.
"He was screaming, 'Oh my God, mom! Oh my God!'" Charlie’s mother Janna Clinton told NPR. “Being in a neighborhood pond, we're used to just catching a few bass or catfish. I mean, nothing with human-like teeth."
Pacu are a group of freshwater fish native to South America. They’re related to piranhas and have their own sizable chompers to boot, but there’s an undeniably comical nature to their teeth. Just get a load of these:
As for what it’s doing in Oklahoma, it’s thought that the fish was probably a pet that got tossed into the wild after it outgrew its tank. This is an unfortunately common practice that’s seen goldfish the size of ten-year-olds emerge in unexpected environments.
Left to its own devices, the pacu may too become a giant. With enough space and ample resources, these fish can stretch to one meter (three feet) long, weighing 44 pounds (20 kilos). Their mighty size and dentition have led some to believe they might be dangerous, but they’re herbivorous fish. However, that didn’t stop them from getting a reputation for biting off people’s testicles.
According to Snopes, a testicle-biting incident reportedly occurred in 2001 when a male swimmer was chomped on the nads by a pacu in Papua New Guinea. In reality, these fish evolved to eat fruits and have seed-crushing teeth as a result. Good for grinding up nuts of the non-human kind, but not very proficient at snipping off testicles.
Human-like teeth on fish have evolved elsewhere in the animal kingdom, as sheepshead fish use theirs for grinding up the shells of mollusks and crustaceans. Sheepsheads don’t start out toothy, spending their youth eating soft-bodied prey like worms. As the fish gets older and larger, its teeth will grow ever more prominent, and – just to add creepiness – the front set will even develop an enamel layer, just like ours.
If anyone had dreams of setting up a dentistry office for fish, you might be onto something.