EXPERTS say fish resembling piranha is a pacu

Tuesday, July 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ It may not be a piranha, but the fish O.A. Bearden caught last week is from South America, fish experts said Monday.

Bearden caught the fish, dubbed Big Boy, last week near the Lake Overholser dam. The fish has been sitting in a minnow tank behind the Route 66 Cookie Jar Cafe and Bait Shop since Thursday.

Bob Martin, a fishery biologist with the Oklahoma City Parks Department, first thought Big Boy was a man-eating piranha because of its teeth. Piranhas are native to South America. Instead it is a pacu, another South American fish that resembles a piranha.

``I got egg on my face on this one,'' Martin said.

It is rare for someone to catch a tropical fish in Lake Overholser, he said, especially since such fish do not survive Oklahoma winters.

Martin said he's seen a lot of walleye, black bass, stripers and channel catfish in Oklahoma City, but not a lot of Amazon River fish.

Martin changed his mind about Big Boy because it is larger than most piranhas and because of its teeth, he said. Although Big Boy has some canine teeth like a walleye, the fish has other teeth that look more like a pacu. A pacu will eat plants and other fish.

Pacus are sold legally in pet stores. Sometimes fish owners will dump them in a lake when they outgrow their tanks.

``This may be the only one in Lake Overholser,'' Martin said.

David Grow, curator of Aquaticus at the Oklahoma City Zoo, saw a photo of Big Boy Monday and identified the fish as a red-bellied pacu, said Tara Henson, zoo spokeswoman.