Can Arkansas solve its piranha problem?

Two Arkansans caught what they thought was a big perch, but it turned out to be something more voracious. Authorities say that piranhas are not all that uncommon in Arkansas, but why?

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    Roger Headly of Arkansas caught a piranha in Lake Bentonville in Arkansas on Friday.
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Roger Headly of Arkansas was fishing on Lake Bentonville on Friday, and he thought he had just reeled in a big old perch.

But when he went to remove the hook from the fish's mouth, it took Mr. Headly by surprise by trying to bite his finger. 

Realizing that this was no perch, Headly called the Arkansas Department of Fish and Game, who brought a biologist who confirmed that the fish was, in fact, a piranha, KFSM-TV in Fort Smith, Ark. reported. Headly told the station that he was "shocked" to find this Amazon fish in the lake, which is normally home to Bluegill, Channel catfish, Crappie, and Largemouth bass among other marine life, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. This followed another piranha being caught last year in a reservoir in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains.

According to the Smithsonian, there are roughly 30 species of piranhas that live in rivers and lakes throughout South America, their natural habitat. These species vary from cannibal piranhas to herbivorous ones. They are generally not naturally found in other habitats outside of South America; when they are it is usually because they are a former pet. 

So in this case, it is not entirely surprising that Army Corps Engineer Alan Bland told KFSM that piranhas are found in local lakes fairly often. He said people dump their aquariums when they no longer want or can take care of the fish, which can grow up to 18 inches long, according to Washington state's Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. 

So next time you're swimming in your favorite lake, are you at risk of getting bitten by one of these toothy fish?

Not really. If you were to encounter a piranha in a North American lake, chances are it had just been been dumped there not all that long ago, because piranhas cannot survive more than a couple days in colder temperatures, according to Mr. Bland. The cold water also makes the fish sluggish and non-aggressive. If that is not reassuring, Popular Science estimated that it would take a school of at least 300-500 piranhas to skeletonize a 180-pound-human in five minutes.

It is illegal to dump aquariums containing exotic fish into public lakes in Arkansas, as well as in other states. Some piranha species, such as the black piranha and the red piranha, run the risk of becoming invasive to their habitat, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. 


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