December 6, 2011
Piranhas are the stuff of B-movies, sensationalized nature television, and the tropical rainforest. Most would think they have little bearing on life here in L.A., however as I learned last week, this is not the case.
Taxidermied Red Piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri "lips" removed to accentuate teethPiranhas are here in L.A.! They are sometimes confiscated from pet stores and, on occasion, they are even found in our waterways. The Museum's Ichthyology collection houses over 30 confiscated piranha, and at least one that was caught in the "wild." According to the collections record, this Red Piranha (see below) was netted from "Simi Valley Public Golf Course, Lake B." It was collected on April 28, 1988 and measured 275mm (almost 10 1/2 inches)! Most interestingly the capture method box of the record states that that the "fish was in distress." I wonder if the piranha would ever have been discovered had it not been in distress? Before any of us decide to never go fishing for our wayward golf balls with our bare hands again, I have some happy news. Even in the Amazon basin, where Red Piranhas are native, humans are extremely unlikely to be injured by them, let alone die. The image of a school of piranha stripping all flesh from a whole cow or indeed a whole human, isn't much more than a sensationalized Hollywood gimmick (think James Bond's You Only Live Twice). This is because Red Piranha are actually scavengers preferring to eat dead, not living flesh. So next time you're fishing for your golf ball in the water trap, be safe in the knowledge that you're much more likely to get bitten by your neighbor's dog!
The Simi Valley Golf course piranhaOther piranha collected in L.A. come to the Museum directly from the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). CDFG staff often patrol pet stores and upon finding illegal creatures will confiscate them under California Law Title 14 Section 671. The fish are promptly brought to the Museum for identification and sometimes for permanent storage, though they may be taken briefly into a court of law as evidence! In May 2002, the Museum received 16 Red Piranha specimens confiscated from one pet store alone!
Red Piranha confiscated from pet storeI wonder if we'll ever find a piranha in the North Campus pond?