A man swallowed whole by a fish. A body eaten alive from within. Another penetrated in a most unnatural fashion. Yet more with multiple stab wounds. Jeremy Wade is in pursuit of some of the Amazon's most notorious flesh eaters.
Maximum Length: Up to 6 inches
The Amazon's Most Feared Fish: The Candiru is a terrifying fish, even when stacked up against its fellow river monsters of the Amazon. But this parasitic freshwater catfish does not instill fear by way of its monstrous size. On the contrary, it's small, eel-like and so translucent that it can be nearly impossible to spot in the water, which makes it even more terrifying. Some claim this fish is the most feared in the entire Amazon region, and the fear stems from the fact that it has a knack for finding open orifices and working its way inside. Once inside another organism, the Candiru feeds on its host's blood, becoming increasingly swollen. The Candiru is the star of an urban legend — which turns out to be true — of a man who was urinating in the Amazon River when a 6-inch Candiru swam up his urine stream into his penis. The fish remained there for days, until a surgeon was able to remove it.
The Most Horrific Candiru: Perhaps the most horrifying Candiru species of all is the Candiru asu. This small catfish is a voracious parasite. It uses its circular mouth and sharp teeth to bite flesh and then enter organisms, leaving behind a wound that looks uncannily like a bullet hole. The Candiru asu proceeds to feed on the organs, literally eating its victim from inside. Human corpses have been discovered in the Amazon filled with more than 100 of these river monsters. Scientists and coroners have determined that the victims may have even been alive and simply incapacitated when the Candiru asu struck.
In Jeremy Wade's Words: "The candiru usually targets a big fish as its host, drinking blood from its gills, but occasionally they make mistakes. This has resulted in one of the most infamous legends to emerge from the Amazon: a man urinating in the river who has a fish swim up his penis."
Maximum Length: Up to 9-½ feet
Maximum Weight: Over 500 pounds
The Amazon's Largest Catfish: The piraiba boasts the title of largest catfish in the Amazon River, and it has a sordid reputation for biting off more than it can chew (or, in this case, swallow). The piraiba's massive mouth can measure more than 40 centimeters (nearly 16 inches) across. Fishermen have found monkeys, large birds, cats, dogs and even other catfish inside of these massive animals, indicating that the piraiba happily scavenges dead creatures in the water.
Maneater or Misunderstood? One particularly gruesome tale recounts that a fisherman dove down to untangle a net and never emerged from the water. His fellow fishermen found his body hours later when a giant piraiba floated to the surface in distress. Only the fisherman's legs were visible, protruding from the piraiba's mouth. Fishermen in the Amazon respect the piraiba as a worthy adversary, noting that the powerful piraiba can drown a wrestling fisherman by dragging him to the bottom of the river. Still, power and a notoriously voracious appetite do not necessarily make the piraiba a river monster prone to attacking and preying on live humans.
Jeremy Wade's Tips for Catching Piraiba Catfish: "This one folded the rod over in characteristic style, headed for the middle of the river, then hung deep and refused to come up. Unlike red-tailed catfish, piraiba don't head for snags. I like to think this is their supreme arrogant confidence in their strength, but it's probably just species programming."