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Candirus - Is their dastardly act just jungle legend?

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Marty Essen
569822.  Mon Jun 15, 2009 5:51 pm Reply with quote

In the Catfish chapter of The Book of Animal Ignorance it states: " . . . beware of the candiru, a tiny catfish that lives in the Amazon. If you swim in the murky waters and urinate, the fish will find its way into your urethra. Once inside, it erects its spines, causing inflammation, hemorrhage, and death."

When I wrote my book, "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents," my research didn't turn up any definitive evidence to prove that the candiru's urine stream swimming was more than just jungle legend. Furthermore, John Kricher reported in "A Neotropical Companion" that he was unable to find a single documented instance of a candiru-plugged urethra.

Have you found some documentation on candirus that John Kricher and I missed, or should this little fish once and for all be found innocent of one of the most dastardly acts in nature?

By the way: The Book of Animal Ignorance was a fun read!

Sadurian Mike
569834.  Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:07 pm Reply with quote

I saw a documentary on this very fish a while back but, to my shame (and consequent reduction in credibility), I forget both the name and the presenter.

It took him a while but he eventually found the fish. In the meantime he had collected numerous witnesses to its existence and habits.

Not definitive by any means, but if anyone has a better recollection (not hard) they might be able to supply more information.

In the meantime, here's a sprinkling of internet sources;
Straight Dope

EDITs: Sorry; I struggled with some of those links and getting the tags right.

Last edited by Sadurian Mike on Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:21 pm; edited 3 times in total

569836.  Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:12 pm Reply with quote

Hi Marty.

I've just had a look through the QI research archive, and we do have a source which supports the story, namely Herman, John R (1973), 'Candiru: Urinophilic catfish - Its gift to urology', Urology 1(3), pp 265-267. Professor Herman was a clinical professor attached to Yeshiva University, so seems reliable.

He wrote this:

"One of the strangest [stories from the Amazon concerned] a fish that was urinophilic and could swim up the urethra or into the vagina of the unwary native who urinated while bathing in the Amazon. It was said that this fish, known as candirú [in Brazil; as carnero in Spanish-speaking countries], was long, thin, and capable of forcing its way into the body's passageways following the trail of urine. Once inside it would eat away the mucous membranes and tissues until hemorrhage would kill it or the host. It was also said that even if one caught the fish by the tail, once in the urethra it could not be pulled out because it would spread itself like an umbrella. Indeed, rumors had it that penectomy was preferred to the misery and pain associated with leaving the fish in the urethra!"

The same claim was made in the same journal 28 years earlier by someone called Lins, and Lins also claims that a US Navy surgeon called Ammerman told him he had performed the necessary surgery on three occasions.

But if you want a really authoritative source, well they've done a candirú storyline on Grey's Anatomy ...

569838.  Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:16 pm Reply with quote

Professor Herman may be reliable - but he carefully doesn't confirm the reality of the story. He's relying on a strange story from the amazon.

Lins (Navy surgeon) - as a primary source is more reliable proof.

569845.  Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:37 pm Reply with quote

Indeed so Posital, it's just a feeling that Professor Herman wouldn't have mentioned it at all if he were certain it were untrue.

As for the 1945 mention, I've now found the full citation. Dr Eugênio Lins was a Brazilian urologist, and he used a non-surgical method (a herbal mixture at close to boiling point and administered par anum) to treat the condition, while also mentioning the American Ammerman who used surgery.

Lins, E E (1945), 'The solution of incrustations in the urinary bladder by a new method', Journal of Urology, 53(5), p 702. (Not, contrary to what I said above, the same journal.)

Sadurian Mike
569854.  Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:53 pm Reply with quote

One of the Wiki links is a case report from a Manaus hospital;

Google translation of Portugese case report. The translation is distinctly patchy but serves its purpose.

To quote the relevant section (prepare to cross your legs and wince);
Dr. Samad Anoar, Chief of urology services, Manaus Adventist Hospital wrote:
Case report: Patient 23, male, looking for the emergency service with extreme difficulty in urination and bleeding by the urethra, with a history of 3 days that had suffered an attack by a fish of the Amazon region known as the candiru and the that had penetrated into his urethra when the urine into the river, said that tried to hold it, mas era muito liso e parecia ser de pequeno tamanho. but it was very smooth and seemed to be of small size. Ao exame físico, o paciente apresentava-se descorado com febre , forte dor à manipulação do pênis ,retenção urinária, sangramento pelo pênis On physical examination, the patient was pale with fever, extreme pain to the manipulation of the penis, urinary retention, bleeding the penis e grande inchaço de bolsa and great swelling of scholarship escrotal . Encaminhado ao centro cirúrgico , e , sob anestesia , realizamos cistoscopia ( endoscopia da uretra e bexiga ) scrotum. referred to the surgical center, and under anesthesia, we performed cystoscopy (endoscopy of the urethra and bladder) para diagnóstico e documentação do caso. for diagnosis and documentation of the case. Identificamos Identified que o peixe era de grande tamanho ocupando toda a uretra anterior e com impactação perto do esfíncter urinário ou músculo que controla a urina that the fish was of great size occupying the entire anterior urethra and impacted near the urinary sphincter or muscle that controls urine ( provavelmente, enquanto vivo o peixe tentou penetrar em bolsa escrotal, explicando o importante inchaço (Probably as live fish tried to penetrate the scrotal bag, explaining the important swelling da mesma ). the same). Pensamos em abrir o períneo e retirá-lo por esta via, mas conseguimos retirá-lo por via endoscópica. We open in the perineum and remove it in this way, but we remove it by endoscopy. Paciente permaneceu internado com cuidados clínicos inerentes ao caso e , no seguimento de um ano , não aprentou estreitamento da uretra e /ou and / or qualquer outra complicação. any other complication.

The report goes on to say that the fish was postively identified as a Trichomycteridae Plectrochilus (candiru).

Marty Essen
570228.  Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:04 pm Reply with quote

Thanks to everyone for the information!

In my opinion, the jury is still out on whether or not candirus are truly a danger to humans. The report from Dr. Samad Anoar and the Animal Planet reenactment video are convincing, but neither source documents how the candiru actually entered the young man's urethra.

As awful as it sounds, the candiru could have been manually inserted for a number of reasons. If you don't believe me, just ask someone who works in an emergency room about the foreign objects they've removed from human orifices!

Considering how many native children spend their days playing in the Amazon and its tributaries (and not bothering to get out of the water before urinating), there should be numerous documented cases of candiru-plugged urethras.

That being said, when I visit the Amazon, I happily swim with piranhas but never pee while I'm in the river! Why take chances?

Ion Zone
570557.  Wed Jun 17, 2009 9:57 am Reply with quote

Piranhas have a rather undeserved reputation don't they? It's the stonefish you have to watch.

I'm not sure though how this would benifit the candiru as it sounds like it is fatal to them.

570637.  Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:31 am Reply with quote

You can blame the Teddy boy for starting the Piranhas rumours.

570650.  Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:43 am Reply with quote

A number of fish are known locally as candiru; you refer to Vandellia cirrhosa:

The Fishbase record goes on to say " The incorporation of this species in fish-based house security systems has been suggested (see Ref. 9506)." However note that there is no actual truth to this last comment; the reference in question is this one:

Citation Dunnit, H. and H. Kneesun-Boompsadaisy 1994 On the introduction of exotic freshwater fish species to the South Pacific. Twenty-fifth regional technical meeting on fisheries, Noumea, New Caledonia, 14-18 March 1994. South Pacific Commission, SPC/Fisheries 25/WP 99, 7 p.
Paper URL
Ref. No. 9506
Language English
Usage used completely
Remarks This publication was meant as a humorous, fictional contribution.

All your (Fish)base are belong to us.

599210.  Fri Aug 14, 2009 8:12 pm Reply with quote

Ion Zone wrote:
I'm not sure though how this would benifit the candiru as it sounds like it is fatal to them.

It is usually explained as a mistake on their part; their normal habit is to swim into the gill opening of a larger (obviously) fish, where they lodge themselves in place with their spines and feed on the blood with which the gills are plentifully supplied. The outflow of urine is presumed to be mistaken for the outflow from the gills.
Several species may be implicated, there is an interesting review here:
and here:
The latter is worth reading if only for;
"Two species I have just described with the three previously known,
brings the number of Vandellias up to five — maybe. I used a howitzer,
and my distinguished predecessors, Pellegrin, Castelnau, Valenciennes
and Cuvier used hand lenses."

The second contains a lot of other material, you may want to use a search for Candiru within the document.


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