Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Invasive Red-bellied Pacu Caught in Lake Conroe

According to an article posted on the Yourhoustonnews.com website, a red- bellied pacu (Piaractus brachyomus), a distant cousin to the piranha, was caught in Lake Conroe by a catfish angler last week.

The article, written by Howard Roden, tells the story of Kenneth Evans who was out fishing for cats on Monday May 2nd. Evans had been having pretty good luck but had no idea what he was about to run into when his rod bowed over for the ninth time that day.

“I was really startled,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think.”

The fish was 13 inches long and weighed in right at 3 lbs. The body shape of the fish, the orange colored belly, and the prominent teeth led Evans to the conclusion he had landed a piranha. According to Evans, the fish made a “weird sound” and clamped down on a stick presented in front of its mouth like a pit bull.

Game Warden Brannon Menkowsky is confident the fish is a pacu and not a piranha. The teeth are the key to properly identifying the fish according to Menkowsky. The piranha has razor sharp teeth meant to rip off bite-sized chunks of flesh. The pacu, by contrast, has very human-looking teeth that are designed to crush rather than rip. Pacu can be purchased legally and often are dumped into Texas waters once they outgrow their aquariums.

Menkowsky added that reports of piranhas, while not common, have come in to his office at least two other times over the last eight years. Both of these reports originated from Lake Conroe. A fellow Game Warden, Derwin Biggerstaff, says he gets calls about once a year about “piranhas.”

This is the second time in the last year I’ve heard of a red-bellied pacu being pulled out of Texas waters. As documented on this site here, a lady I went to college with reported to me that her son pulled a pacu from a private lake near Leander outside of Austin. She sent me the photo and even posted a short video on YouTube showing her son’s unusual catch.

The pacu problem may be getting to a point where TPWD officials are going to have to address it. This invasive species is ravenous and will quickly put native species like bass and bluegill out of business if their numbers grow too large. I am aware I may be sounding like a bit of an alarmist but a recent episode of River Monsters documents that pacu can decimate native species, in this case tilapia, and even become dangerous to humans. While considered mainly vegetarians, pacu are actually omnivorous and will eat flesh. Jeremy Wade of the River Monsters program aptly demonstrates this fact as he documents attacks on New Zealand native tribesmen by this invasive species. The pacu has become known in the region as the “ball cutter” due to its preference for certain parts of the male anatomy. The Lake Conroe pacu bit a chicken gizzard meant for catfish. This would seem to prove that meat is not off their diet. I don’t point this out to insinuate that pacu will begin attacking swimmers; rather, I mention it out of concern that this invasive fish could decimate native species through competition for available food and by preying on their fry.

I cannot stress enough that releasing an exotic fish into public waters is a terrible idea. Owners do not want to kill their pets when they get too large. I get that; however, the potential harm that could be done to native species is just too great. It may sound cruel but, if a suitable home cannot be found for a pacu, it should be euthanized.

Anyone who catches a pacu or any other exotic fish species in Texas public waters should notify the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department immediately.


  1. I am astounded by those teeth. Very wierd.

  2. My daughter caught one in Wright Patman on blood bait three years ago.
    Had no clue what it was until seeing the River Monsters you mention.

  3. Caught two about 7 inches out of a lake in Irving, Texas. Thought we had a pirhana. Hahahaha.

  4. are those edible?

  5. It is my understanding that, yes, they are edible.


  6. some corrections:

    1. The episode where Jeremy Wade caught pacu is at Papua New Guinea, NOT New Zealand :)

    2. Tilapia is NOT native species either to Papua New Guinea or South East Asia region for that matter, tilapia is native to Africa (!!!) where is widely stocked in the region. Unfortunately tilapia is as damaging as the Pacu as an invasive species, in some places it has wiped out the local fish population as they breed like rabbits and ravenous eaters!!

    Anyway tilapia has been bred n farmed intensively in this region, not for eating but mainly for fishing, they grow fast and fight hard and readily take anything: lures, flies, baits, you name it.

    They are not as ferocious as Jeremy Wade is trying to portray in his show (good for rating though) they are rather shy and skittish and definitely don't attack humans, I'm always wondering how on earth Jeremy knows it's the pacus that have been cutting the local guy's balls lol

    1. It has been a while since i saw the episode of River Monsters but i believe they recovered a tooth from a victim and matched it to the Pacu.

  7. I recall a few reports of them being caught out of the Trinity R. in the Dallas area. As an aside anyone who fishes in the Trinity should NOT consume any fish taken from there. I believe that TP&W considers such activity as unlawful.

  8. They sell dime sized ones in pet stores and don't know or don't tell costumers how big they get or how quickly they grow. People buy them and put them in small tanks because they're pretty with their metallic silver bodies snd bright red bellys not bothering to find out about the species. Then sadly dump them in rivers and lakes when they get too big. I have one in a 125 gallon aquaruim that is appox 5 pounds and growing. I feed mine green peas and goldfish. His name is Perry Pacu. He eats right out of my hand :)