A piranha mysteriously turned up in a Louisiana lake — and officials are on the hunt for others that may be skulking in the water.
The red piranha, a species native to South America, was caught last week in University Lakes in Baton Rouge, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.
But piranhas aren’t supposed to be found anywhere near Louisiana, leading wildlife officials to believe it was illegally kept as a pet and released into the lake.
“All piranha species are illegal to possess or sell in Louisiana,” the LDWF says.
Now, wildlife officials are investigating whether more could be lurking in the University Lake system.
“If you have information, or if you think you caught a piranha, please do not return it to the water,” the LDWF says.
Popular culture has given piranhas a bad reputation as “vicious” predators, the department says. But they’re more likely to go after “dead or dying” prey.
Still, wildlife officials say the public should “use caution” if they come across one.
The “stocky” fish are usually between 6 and 8 inches long and have a “reddish belly,” according to the Georgia Aquarium. Despite being less aggressive than commonly believed, they have powerful jaws and sharp teeth and can still “inflict serious bites.”
They’re “highly predaceous” and typically feed on insects, snails, worms and plants but will sometimes “nip” other fish, the Georgia Aquarium says.
Some states, like Louisiana, don’t allow the sale of red piranha over concerns people will release them into the wild, where they could “multiply and feed upon indigenous fishes,” according to the aquarium.
“Incidents of this sort have been reported in Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Florida,” the aquarium says.