I THINK I’D RATHER SWIM WITH PIRANHAS

Oh, the mighty Amazon, home to a host of scary critters. Thanks to Hollywood, we’ve all been acquainted with the horrors of anacondas, jaguars, and piranhas. But the scariest creature of them all could be a tiny fish that’s so translucent, you may not even realize it’s there…

Until you start screaming in pain.

The candiru (Vandellia cirrhosa), only an inch long and needle thin, is the smallest species of catfish. Like other catfish, it has sharp spines on its dorsal and pectoral fins. It’s adapted for a parasitic life in the gills and cloacae of bigger fish, and it finds its way into a new host by following the scent of uric acid, which fish emit from their gills. Then it uses its spines to plant itself into its new home.

Uric acid, by the way, happens to be a component of human urine. (You can probably guess where this is headed.)

So there you are, the intrepid toursit on the banks of the Amazon River, wading in for a swim. Maybe you had a little too much to drink and you also need to pee. You figure you might as well do it while you’re in the water. So you glide right in and let loose.

Along comes a candiru. Sniffing urine, it darts toward the source, thinking it’s heading into a host fish. Instead it’s swimming straight up your urethra, where it plants itself by raising its gill covers and driving its spines into your exquisitely sensitive tissues.

This is where the screaming part comes in.

Removal is said to be so difficult, and the pain so excruciating, that South American natives have been known to amputate the penis just to end the ordeal.

Lest women think this is a problem just for the guys, candiru have been known to burrow inside any unprotected orifice, including the anus, vagina, and nose.

There’s plenty of screaming to go around.

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