If you have ever heard of the Amazon River and rainforests, you would have heard about the Candiru fish as well. Like Piranha, this tiny little catfish is also a villain of many fearsome stories and a subject of dread among many people.
Also known as the pencil fish, the toothpick fish and the vampire fish, Candiru is a freshwater parasitic catfish found in the Amazon basin. It is a small species, which can only grow to 40 cm at most. However, the fish has developed notoriety, thanks to various stories claiming of it jumping to the people’s urethra.
The Candiru fish feeds on blood of the fish hosts. It attacks the gill opening and attaches itself to a blood vessel and slashes it. It feed on the blood coming out from the wound. It leaves the host after a few minutes of feeding.
The earliest account of Candiru attacking a human was made by German biologist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius in 1829. In his report, Maritus told that the native people of the area would go into river with a protective cover around their genitals to prevent Candiru attack. Later many stories of the Candiru attack emerged, but most of them went unverified. In a number of cases, Candiru entered the vaginal canal, not the supposed urethra.
So far, there is only one documented incident of a Candiru entering a human urethra. The incident took place in 1997 at Itacoatiara, Brazil when a 23-year-old man reported that a Candiru jumped from the water into his urethra while he was urinating in a river. The man underwent a urological surgery by Dr. Anoar Samad to remove the fish from his body immediately. But there were many discrepancies in the story, as emerged in the observations of American marine biologist and Candiru expert Dr. Stephen Spotte.
There are a lot of factors that prove the stories surrounding Candiru to be just myths. The early doctors had speculated that the fish was attracted to urine because of the presence of urea. But experimental studies proved that it was a false assumption. The fish hunted by sight not smell. Another major myth was that it can swim directly up a stream of human urine. But according to the laws of fluid dynamics, this is impossible. The small fish can’t withstand both the gravity and the force of falling urine. And the act of entering the urethra is suicidal for the fish as well. With no oxygen or space, it won’t survive even a minute.
The Candiru fish is just another victim of the loose tongues and twisted minds. It is not attracted to human urine and neither has the tendency to enter the human urethra. The myth emerged from many false accounts of people over the years. Even the chance of the fish to attack when a person is urinating while submerged in a stream inhabited by Candiru is, just like Dr. Spotte stated, about the same as being struck by lightning while simultaneously being eaten by a shark.
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