From: the Deadly 60 Team, BBC Earth
Published October 12, 2011 01:53 PM

Can piranhas eat a human being alive?

Seeking out the truth behind the myth, Steve and his Deadly team take to the water to find out exactly why the piranha has developed such a fearsome reputation. 

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Legend has it that piranhas gather in predatory shoals and can strip human beings to the bone and eat them alive. The yellow-bellied piranha has a horrific appearance, with a mouth packed full of 4mm long canines, which, like sharks, are constantly replaced when lost or worn down.

They can also detect a drop of blood in 200 litres of water and shoals can clean off meat from a carcass with alarming effectiveness. When Steve travelled to the Amazon river he went in search of this notorious killer fish. Getting in the water to lure them in with a piece of steak had frightening results.

Piranhas are not carnivorous aggressive man-eaters. According to research in the UK piranhas are thought to be mainly scavengers, feeding on fish, plants and insects, and sometimes stripping meat from mammal carcasses that have ended up in the river. They also appear to be quite fearful, gathering in large shoals, not to hunt down prey, but to defend themselves against predators.

We're pretty sure that no one has ever been eaten alive by piranhas, even if a few attacks have been reported. If they have eaten any humans it's probably because they have eaten the remains of a drowned body lying on the river bed!

The myth of the aggressive piranha might be due to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who visited Brazil in 1914 and saw a piranha shoal rapidly strip the flesh from a dead cow. However, the show had been set up to entertain tourists; the captive fish had been kept hungry for days so they would go into a feeding frenzy.

While we're not suggesting you bathe in piranha infested water with wild abandon, we think it's safe to say that most piranhas are peace loving vegetable eaters, and unlikely to hunt you down and devour you alive!

For more stories like this one check out the Deadly Diaries, direct from Steve and the Deadly 60 team!

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