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Piranha cousin caught in Marshalltown pond

August 20, 2009

Marshall County is not without a good fish story or two.

A recent catch just may rival a state record crappie caught at Green Castle Park by Ted Trowbridge in 1981.

A cousin of the piranha, a pacu, was pulled out of a city pond just off of Southridge Road in Marshalltown Tuesday.

Article Photos

Jared VanDeWalle, 11, of Marshalltown, poses with a pacu he caught Monday at a pond just off of Southridge Road. The fish, native of South America and cousin to the piranha, was likely illegally dumped into the pond when it outgrew a home aquarium.

"I couldn't believe it," said 11-year-old Jared VanDeWalle, who pulled the fish out of the pond on a live worm.

At the time, he said he was fishing for bluegill.

"It put up a pretty big fight," he said. "I thought it was a big bullhead."

A neighbor identified it as a piranha, which bears a close resemblance to the fish VanDeWalle caught. The pacu is sometimes marketed to aquarium hobbyists as a vegetarian piranha and is native to South America.

The most likely explanation as to how it arrived in a pond in Marshalltown is that a local person released it there after it got too big for the tank it was in.

"That would be the most logical choice," said Rick Trine, a biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Though the fish is largely herbivorous, it did strike a live worm, but that does not mean they are predatory by nature.

"They will scavenge," said Mike Stegmann, the director of the Marshall County Conservation Office. "They are opportunists."

Stegmann said it is likely the fish was recently released into the pond.

"They are tropical fish and can't survive in Iowa when it gets cold," he said.

Though finding the individual responsible for releasing the fish could be difficult, Trine said it is against the law in Iowa to release a non-native fish in to a state water system.

Despite their herbivorous nature, there have been reports of pacus in aquarium settings biting people to the point where they have required surgery. One man had to have part of his nose reattached.

Despite such stories, the danger one fish could pose to the ecosystem would be minimal, according to Trine.

"If it was just one fish and one isolated incident, it would not have a large impact," he said. "Because it would likely die over the winter, it wouldn't have a long-term impact, either."

As far as VanDeWalle is concerned, he is happy with his prize, which will soon be mounted.

"It's the first time I ever caught one," he said.

And barring any trips to South America, probably the last.


Contact Ken Black at 641-753-6611 or



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