Jeremy Wade w/ puffer fish in Cambodia.

RIVER MONSTERS Recap: Tiny Puffer Fish Flesh-Eating Terror of Cambodia’s Mekong River

Last night in Cambodia, Jeremy Wade began an investigation on Animal Planet’s RIVER MONSTERS for a fish that was attacking humans, slicing through their flesh easily and cleanly. One young man even had one of his testicles attacked, the wound “clean and surgical,” not ripped and torn. But, in the beginning of his search, Wade had no idea or suspects for what the culprit might be.

Once in the region, Wade was arrested as a suspected spy. In 1984, he was forced to leave the country under hostile conditions and, understandably, was rather uncomfortable being back in the area. They took all of his film, Wade said, and never returned it–including photos of the largest fish he had ever seen. But, when a monster calls, Jeremy Wade follows, so back in Cambodia he was.

Originally Wade began his search as he often does:  by fishing. But, he soon realized a new approach was needed. Not only was he not catching anything that could help his search–he caught an awful lot of trees and limbs–there was a chance that one of the many unexploded bombs left in the river from the Vietnam era could end up on his line: reason enough to try something different.

Interviewing and researching led Wade to the suspicion that he was not looking at some leftover huge fish from long ago, but a very common fish in the waters of the Mekong: a puffer fish. A small fish, about the size of an adult hand with a tiny mouth, the puffer fish might not look like the obvious choice. However, when you look closer at that tiny mouth, the “teeth” are intimidating. The mouth/teeth looks more like a bird’s beak, or perhaps the mouth of a snapping turtle–and, although turtles are not necessarily aggressive, their mouths can definitely lay a bite on a person when threatened.

The interesting thing is that the only way Wade was able to catch one of these tiny beasts was by net fishing with the locals. He was able to get nary a bite via line-fishing, leading him to the conclusion that the fish were biting and attacking not in search of a meal, but because they felt threatened.

It still seemed hard to believe that that tiny mouth could be the source of so much damage, even death–but, then again, piranhas are not that big, and they certainly are not a species to be dismissed. And, there was too much evidence to ignore. Ultimately, Wade concluded that the little puffer fish was, in fact, the river monster he was in search of. Because of deadly toxins, they are not brought to market when they are caught; they are thrown back in the river. Therefore, unlike other fish in the river, the puffer fish is multiplying unchecked, and there are swarms of them in the Mekong–and they are, Wade concluded, every bit the river monster their tiny beak-like mouths insinuate they could be. Mystery solved.

RIVER MONSTERS airs on Animal Planet on Sunday nights at 9/8c.

Image:  Animal Planet via Facebook

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