A pacu fish, native to the Amazon River Basin, was caught last month in Illinois' Lake Lou Yaeger by a local fisherman. This fish has strong human-like teeth and is closely related to the piranha. While the fish doesn't pose a real threat to humans, in its native home it's known as the "ball cutter" after two fishermen died from wounds sustained from the toothy fish. Jeremy Wade, host of Animal Planet’s River Monsters, has some first-hand experience dealing with the pacu.
Wade was also able to share a few comments with us on the nature of the pacu fish, in light of the recent reports out of Illinois. [Watch More River Monsters Video!] "Pacu are normally vegetarian, but can be carnivorous. They are also very hardy fish, good at surviving outside their native Amazon, as long as the water isn't too cold. In Papua New Guinea, they have bitten people; however, this was following a stocking of thousands of fish, into a situation with very few native species and a shortage of their preferred type of food (seeds and nuts). The fish in the reports are almost certainly pet fish that outgrew their tanks. In order to breed, there would need to be many more of them in the water. While it would not be true to say there is no risk of being bitten by a pacu in the US, the chances would be very small. Driving to and from the lake would be many times more dangerous."
Learn more about the pacu and its eating habits, and check out photosof Wade up close and personal with a red-bellied pacu.
A sheepshead and a pacu are two totally different fish, that live in two totally different bodies of water. Sheepshead are a saltwater fish that eats barnacles, crabs, shrimp, etc... They do have human looking teeth to help them crush the shells of the crustaceans that they are fond of. Pretty good eating too. The pacu is a south american fish related to the piranah that is a vegetarian. They are also a big time business in the pet trade all over the United States. This is the reason that they sometimes wind up in freshwater lakes in the U.S. People buy them for their aquariums not realizing that they can get pretty big, and occasionally do eat meat, and then don't know what to do with them. So, they drive on down to the local lake and release them to fend for themselves. Very few places in the U.S. has the climate to support a tropical fish such as that, in fact South Florida is most likely the only one. they have been caught occasionally in lakes here in south Mississippi. They die when it gets cold.