WootBot


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Staff

“I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.” On August 27, 1912, these words in the new issue of All-Story Magazine heralded the first appearance of a new fictional hero: Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. “A crackerjack!” enthused the magazine. “It is the most exciting story we have seen in a blue moon… Zowie! but things happen!” A century later, Tarzan is still going strong. In honor of the ape-man’s 101st birthday this month, we’ve asked Jeopardy! know-it-all Ken Jennings to swing in on his vine and debunk four longstanding misconceptions about the jungles of the world. Ungawa!

Jungle Myth #1: Piranhas Will Strip Your Flesh from Your Bones!

Most people probably know exactly one thing about the small South American fish called piranhas: they are a swarm of razor-toothed juggernauts that will turn the unwary river traveler into a bleached cartoon skeleton within seconds! As a result of the media hype, piranha attack is now a horror and action movie staple. And after a century of panicky species misidentifications, the fish is now banned in over twenty-five U.S. states.

But reports of the piranha’s bloodthirsty appetite have been greatly exaggerated. Most adult piranha survive on fruit, and even the most feared species, Pygocentrus nattereri, the red-bellied piranha, is mostly a scavenger, preying on decaying river carrion, not fresh meat. In 1976, Herbert Axelrod, chairman of the Exotic Fishes Committee of the American Fisheries Society, wrote, “In twenty-five years of travel and fishing in almost every river system in South America, nearly all of which had schools of piranha, I never was bitten, nor did I ever meet anyone who was bitten … nor did I ever meet anyone who even knew anyone who was bitten by a piranha … and these are mostly Indians who live on the river and swim in it every day.” A 2003 study demonstrated that piranha travel in schools as a defense against predators, not because they are marauding for flesh.

So where did the piranha get its badass reputation? Blame Teddy Roosevelt! In 1913, the ex-president mounted an expedition into the Amazon rainforest, up the so-called “River of No Return.” Roosevelt’s Brazilian hosts hoped to impress him with the ferocity of the local fauna, so they staged a piranha attack. They starved a reservoir of the poor fish until they were devouring each other from hunger, then herded a sickly old cow with a bloody discharge into their midst. The resulting carnage was vividly described by Roosevelt in his book Through the Brazilian Wilderness, and a legend was born. Take note: piranhas do have sharp teeth and will try to chow down on living flesh as a defense mechanism or if they’re very hungry. But typically, swimming is piranha-infested waters is perfectly safe. The fish you really have to watch out for is the candiru, which has a reputation for swimming all the way up—well, just go Google it.

Quick Quiz: What now-megasuccessful movie director made his ignominious debut on the low-budget 1981 film Piranha II: The Spawning?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

powerbookie


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Amazingly enough... James Cameron!

Blacksunshine420


quality posts: 0 Private Messages Blacksunshine420

"and even the most feared species, Pygocentrus nattereri, the red-bellied piranha," What? Most feared? Or do you mean the only one you are familar with? Red bellies are the most docile of any of the piranha. A Serrasalmus rhombeus however is a territorial beast and get rather large. Much more aggressive.

robtcore


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The fish you really have to watch out for is the candiru, which has a reputation for swimming all the way up—well, just go Google it.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you Google this fish. Do not Bing, Dogpile or Alta-Vista it, either.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

(seriously, you won't want to swim again. . . )

GGeerIII


quality posts: 0 Private Messages GGeerIII

So they debunk a myth only to purposefully spread another? The candiru "swimming" up anything is probably more rare than piranhas eating live animals. FOR SHAME!

jai151


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jai151
GGeerIII wrote:So they debunk a myth only to purposefully spread another? The candiru "swimming" up anything is probably more rare than piranhas eating live animals. FOR SHAME!



However that is not a myth. There is actual, physical, medical, lose-your-lunchworthy evidence of that happening.

The myth is that it will swim up the stream if you pee from outside of the water, not that it will follow a stream and do very bad things to a very personal area if you pee while under the water.

EDIT: Hmm. While I remember seeing quite a lot of information and unfortunate pictures related to said incident on the male side of things, that all seems to have vanished and Wikipedia marks it as "inconclusive." However there is documentation of a female victim.

brcarthey


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James Cameron directed Pirhana II.

Shinespark


quality posts: 33 Private Messages Shinespark
jai151 wrote:However that is not a myth. There is actual, physical, medical, lose-your-lunchworthy evidence of that happening.



Well, if by evidence you mean hearsay and anecdotes, and a single medical record that has had its veracity doubted by its author.

whoiskenjennings


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Guest Blogger

It's true that more recent analysis of that candiru encounter that made all the headlines not long ago has cast some doubt on the guy's story. I feel a little guilty for introducing possible fish misinformation into a column on fish misinformation, but in the end I decided the jury's still out on the candiru's claim to fame.

But urethra-owners can relax: even if candiru invasions are physically possible, they are certainly very, very rare.