It’s a hot, dry day in July when you decide to explore the Amazon basin by boat. You feel pretty comfortable with your local guide showing you the exotic environment. But all of a sudden, your boat capsizes and you fall overboard into the still, warm water. Luckily, you’re a strong swimmer. Wait a minute. What are all those fishes? And why are they swarming?
This is How to Survive a Piranha Feeding Frenzy.
There are 40 to 60 species of piranhas. The majority are timid by nature and scavenge meat from other fish and carcasses they find in the water. However, the red-bellied piranha is the most vicious and aggressive. It’s also the most common, and it looks like it’s the species you now find yourself swimming among.
Since it’s the dry season, the water is low, and this shoal has grown to over 100 fish with razor-sharp teeth set in powerful, clamping jaws. And they’re hungry. You can’t help but think of that news report from January 2020 when more than 30 people were attacked by piranhas in the aptly named, Parana, Brazil.
This surge happened over several days and prompted local authorities to post strict warning signs. How do piranhas locate prey? What parts of the body do they attack first? How can deep water save you?
Step 1: Be As Still as Possible
Piranhas are stealthy opportunists and are attracted to sick, dying animals. If you panic and begin to thrash around, this will tell predators you’re in trouble and they will begin to swarm. Make your movements slow and deliberate.
Step 2: Don’t Make Noise
Red-bellied piranhas locate their prey with excellent hearing combined with teamwork. The shoal fans out in search of prey. Once they find a tasty morsel, they communicate acoustically to each other which signals the feast to begin. So it’s important you make as little noise as possible. Don’t yell or scream, and tread carefully.
Step 3: Swim to Deeper Water
Attacks on humans have been on the rise over the last decade. Scientists believe it’s caused by an increase in dams on the Amazon River, which slows the current and attracts swimmers. This slow-moving, warm, prime swimming water is exactly what piranhas love.
If you can, quietly move toward deeper water where it’s colder and the current is quicker. Currents can be dangerous themselves if you’re not a strong swimmer, but they will help safeguard you from an unwelcome feeding frenzy.
Step 4: Protect Your Hands and Feet
Exposed hands and feet are vulnerable main targets. So protecting these areas before you potentially go out in piranha-infested waters will help you survive nasty bites. They will still hurt, but maybe you’ll be missing less chunks when you finally escape. Think thick leather gloves and solid shoes. It was United States President Theodore Roosevelt who turned piranha into a popular supervillain in a book chronicling his jungle journey, “Through the Brazilian Wilderness”.
He witnessed an entire cow being devoured down to the bone. But experts believe the shocking event was staged for the President’s benefit. Sorry, Teddy, in truth, these beasts aren’t quite that monstrous after all. Like most animals, piranhas are more scared of you than you are of them.
Giving them a wide berth is your best bet, especially if they’re guarding a clutch of eggs or are especially ravenous.
Honestly, you may have bigger things to be worried about if you fall into a river in the Amazon.
- “Can Piranhas Really Strip A Cow To The Bone In Under A Minute?“.Garden, Home, HowStuffWorks, Animals, and Facts. 2008. Howstuffworks.
- “14 Fun Facts About Piranhas “. @wwrfd, Follow. 2014.Smithsonian Magazine.
- “Piranha Attacks On Humans In Southeast Brazil: Epidemiology, Natural History, And Clinical Treatment, With Description Of A Bite Outbreak“. Haddad Jr, Vidal, and Ivan Sazima. 2003.Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 14 (4)
- “Chainmail, Metal Spikes And Unbreakable Material: Can We Design A ‘Shark-Proof’ Wetsuit?“.@marinakoren, Follow. 2013. Smithsonian Magazine.
- “How To Safely Swim With Piranhas“. 2020. Wikihow.