Among the many legends of strange and dangerous creatures that haunt the Amazon rainforest, that of the Candiru stands out from the rest. The Candiru (Vandellia cirrhosa) is a small catfish purported to enter the intimate orifices of unwary, unfortunate people who urinate into Amazonian waterways. The fish supposedly mistakes urine for water being expelled from the gills of fish and much to the extreme agony of the unlucky person, swims up into their genitals. Spines on its head make it very difficult to extract and amputation is sometimes the only course of action that can be taken.
Well, according to legend, that’s what the Candiru is capable of. In reality, extensive research has indicated that much of this legend is probably a myth since Candirus detect the gills of fish by sight more than scent and the physics of fluid dynamics makes it impossible for then to swim up a stream of urine. The amputations noted in some areas of the Amazon were more likely due to bites from Piranhas, and the one modern case of a Candiru supposedly swimming up a man’s urethra might actually be a hoax.
What is known about the Candiru is that there are several small species of catfish going by this Tupi language name that occur in the waterways of the Amazon basin. They appear to be common and feed off the blood of other fish species. Candirus swim up the gills of larger fish and feed on the blood of their host for a minute or so before swimming off to digest their meal.
Although this interesting fish is fairly common in the Tambopata River, it is rarely seen by guests of Refugio Amazonas and the other two Rainforest Expeditions lodges.
A couple interesting facts about the Candiru:
- A transparent catfish: The Candiru is able to sneak up on its hosts by merit of its small size and light-colored, somewhat transparent appearance. Looking more like a fish that resides in caves, the Candiru is very difficult to see in the murky waters of Amazonian rivers.
- Belongs to a large family of catfish: The Candirus are just three species (one of which occurs in Tambopata) in the large Trichomycteridae family of catfish. Known as the Pencil-Catfish, some of the 207 species live in caves, while others feed on the scales, blood, and even mucous of fish.
How to see Candirus when taking an Amazon adventure tour:
- Participate in experiments that net fish: Although this is a rare occurrence at the Rainforest Expeditions lodges, guests who are present when fish surveys take place have a fair chance of seeing a Candiru as they often turn up in fine-sieved nets.
- Look in jars of specimens: The Rainforest Expeditions lodges have some jars with specimens of fish and other creatures on display. One or two may hold a specimen of a Candiru.
To boat in the same waterways where Candirus swim, take a Peruvian rainforest tour with Rainforest Expeditions. To learn more about the family friendly, jungle adventures offered by Rainforest Expeditions, visit perunature.com.