A school of piranhas attacked and injured at least eight people at a beach resort in Taruma-Acu, near the city of Menaus in Brazil.
The tourists were playing in a stream in the capital city of the state of Amazonas when they suddenly started to feel sharp pains on their feet and legs.
“I felt a ‘shock’ on my heel, I even thought it was an electric eel,” Adaiany Monteiro, one of the attack victims, told G1 (via Newsweek). “When I left, I saw that some people were talking about piranhas and bites. I noticed my foot and saw the bite mark.”
According to the Daily Mail, “Images taken at the scene show how several people had to have their bloodied feet bandaged up after receiving nasty bites from the vicious fish.”
“Piranhas do not exhibit unprovoked attacks on humans, Steve Huskey, a professor of biology at Western Kentucky University, told Live Science. “The situation described is one of piranhas becoming acclimated to free food, and those bites were just another example of mistaken identity, just like shark attacks.”
Local fisheries engineer Daniel Bevilaqua concurred, citing several floating restaurants in the area where food may fall or be thrown into the water.
The piranhas may have just thought the vacationers were food.
“Feeding piranhas in a tourist setting strengthens their natural behaviors to school and bite,” Mark Sabaj Perez, an ichthyologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia, told Live Science.
Paulo Andreas Buckup, an ichthyologist and professor at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, added that the piranha attack could have been caused after just one piranha nibbled on someone’s leg, drawing blood.
“An attack is likely to have been caused by presence of blood in the water, skin injuries or movement that appears as a fish in distress,” he said. “Because their teeth are so sharp, a single bite [could] cause a lot of bleeding and trigger group feeding frenzy behavior.”
Piranhas, with a bite force of 72 pounds (three times their own body weight), have been known to bite off people’s toes.
Last year, four swimmers were found dead and covered in bites after being mauled by piranhas in Paraguay.