Creatures of the Amazon
Canero: TheVampire Fish

By Mike Collis
Many myths and legends abound in the amazon, sometimes what some think as an extraordinary tale actually turns out to be completely true. The Canero or Candiru as it is known in Brazil is one of these. It is the amazing tale of a fish that lodges itself in the genitals of men and women when they swim in the Amazon River.

The Canero (Vandellia cirrhosa) belongs to the catfish family. The Canero can grow up to four inches long but some have been recorded up to 16 inches in length. It is long and thin like an eel and is almost impossible to see in the water because it is nearly transparent. A powerful swimmer it is smooth and covered in slime. It has very sharp teeth and spines that point backwards on its gills. The Canero is mostly found in the Amazon and itís tributaries and has a reputation as being the most feared fish in the Amazon by the local people, even more than pirahna.

There are 3 main species of Canero: the finger-sized Candiru-aÁu and a smaller Canero knicknamed the Toothpick Canero. The Toothpick Canero normally burrows into larger fish. The Whale Canero is a scavenger that tends to feed on dead fish. Though they live in rivers, like most scavengers they do not like the sun and bury themselves in the mud on the river bottom. The Canero is a parasite. Its modus operandi is simple as well as ruthless; to locate its prey, the Canero first tastes the water, trying to find a water stream that is coming from the gills of another fish. Once such a stream is detected, the Canero follows the stream to its new host and inserts itself inside the gill flap. Spines around its head then pierce the scales of the fish and draws blood while anchoring itself in place. The canero then feeds on the blood of its host by using its mouth as a slurping apparatus and while rasping the long teeth on its top jaw. When full it then unhooks its spines and sinks to the bottom of the river to digest its meal. The lust for blood has led to it earning the title: The Vampire Fish. However the reason that the Canero is most feared by humans is because it is the only fish known to parasitize humans! The fish is said to be attracted to the taste and smell of human urine although this is disputed. Caneros attack humans when they are swimming naked and urinating in the river. When the the Canero tastes the urine and follows it back to the source. It then swims up the urethra and attaches itself in the urinary tract with its spines extended. The Canero gorges itself on human blood and body tissue, its body can sometimes expand to double its normal size due to the amount consumed. Once inside the host the Canero eats away the mucous membranes and tissues until hemorrhage would kill it or itís 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 spreads its spines out like an umbrella frame. The Canero can attack both men and women. Penectomy is generally preferred to the misery and pain associated with leaving the fish in the urethra. However the local people say there is only one way to expel the Canero from the body without cutting. The victim has to drink the juice of the green fruit of the Jagua tree. The juice of this fruit is made into a tea and drunk hot, supposedly causing the skeleton of the fish to dissolve and resulting in its expulsion from the victimís body within a couple hours.

In 1829 a german biologist named C.F.P.von Martius was the first to report a Canero attack on a human. Martius never actually witnessed the attack but was told about it by local people after the event. He also noted that local men would tie small vines around their penis when entering the water to bathe to stop a Canero from invading. The biologist was also the first to claim that Caneros are attracted by the odour of human urine. This was later proved to be false as Caneros hunt by sight and are not attracted to urine at all.

Very little is known about the mating habits of the Canero. What we do know for certain is if you go swimming in the Amazon River be sure to keep your private parts covered or you could be going home with an unwelcome passenger!
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