Candiru

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Candiru (English and Portuguese) or candirú (Spanish), also known as cañero or toothpick fish, are a number of genera of parasitic freshwater catfish in the family Trichomycteridae; all are native to the Amazon River. Although some candiru species have been known to grow to a size of 16 inches (~41 cm) in length, others are considerably smaller. These smaller species are known for an alleged tendency to invade and parasitize the human urethra; however, despite ethnological reports dating back to the late 19th century,[1] the first documented case of a candiru parasitizing a human did not occur until 1997.

The definition of candiru differs between authors. The word has been used to refer to only Vandellia cirrhosa, the entire genus Vandellia, the subfamily Vandelliinae, or even the two subfamilies Vandelliinae and Stegophilinae.[2][3][4][5]

Contents

Physical description

Candirus are small fish. Adults can grow to around 15 cm with a rather small head and a belly that can appear distended, especially after a large blood meal. The body is translucent making it quite difficult to spot in the turbid waters of its home. There are short sensory barbels around the head, together with short, backward pointing spines on the gill covers.[6]

Location and habitat

The area most populated by this fish is at the junction of the Amazon River and the Rio Negro, near Brazil's inland city of Manaus. Here they thrive as the low pH, brown, largely organic-material based Amazon river churns with the conversely high pH (basic), oligotrophic (with very low nutrient content, i.e., organic material), tannin-saturated flows of the Rio Negro. This mixing point provides a rich diversity of sustained fauna.

Attacks on people

Although lurid anecdotes of attacks on humans abound, there is only one documented case of a candiru entering a human orifice.[7] In this instance, the victim had a candiru swim into his urethra as he urinated while thigh-deep in a river.[8] Jeremy Wade, a British biologist, investigated this incident for the Discovery Channel's River Monsters.[9] The victim underwent a two-hour urological surgery to remove the candiru. Dr. D. Scott Smith, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Kaiser Permanente, described the candiru as having spikes to assist it clinging to its host.[10]

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