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Piranha-Like Fish Found At Chicago Area Lake

Pacu Fish, Chicago Area
Jim De Persia found this thing -- later identified as a Pacu fish -- near his Indiana home. (CBS)

CEDAR LAKE, Ind. (CBS) -- A retiree from Chicago thought he had the fish story of a lifetime in hand: a deadly Piranha in the waters of Cedar Lake, Ind.

But like most fish stories, this one didn't turn out quite the way he had hoped.

CBS 2's Mike Parker reports Jim DePersia found it washed up on shore where his backyard meets the waters of Cedar Lake.

Piranha-Like Fish Found At Chicago Area Lake

"I noticed the fish and even from a distance, it looks like a Piranha," DePersia said. "As I came up and looked at it, I thought I knew my fish and this is a huge monster."

He posed for a picture of his toothy discovery, weighed and measured it. It was just shy of seven pounds and 20 inches long.

But was it a Piranha?

Shedd Aquarium experts studied the photo and determined it was not. They say it is an Amazon cousin to the Piranha fish, called a Pacu. There's an entire display of Pacu at the Chicago Shedd.

"They eat fruits, they'll eat plant matter," Shedd field ecologist Solomon David says. "They'll eat whatever comes their way, but Piranhas on the other hand, they're strictly meat eaters."

How did the Pacu end up in Cedar Lake? Experts say collectors often turn them loose into streams and rivers when the Pacu outgrow their home tanks and aquariums.

They are much larger than Piranhas. They're also tropical creatures that cannot survive the winter waters of Chicago.

Pacu Fish In Chicago Area
Jim De Persia poses with the large, toothy exotic fish he found washed ashore near his home. (Jim De Persia)

"You don't want to stick your finger in their mouth to look for those teeth. It's definitely a scary thing to get on the end of your line or find washed up on the beach," said Tom Bacula, fisheries biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Bacula told Newsradio's Steve Miller the Pacu doesn't really threaten humans - not to the extent a Piranha might - but it does threaten the ecosystem and was probably released when it got too big for an aquarium.

As for his Pacu, DePersia says: "I'll probably stuff it and put it on my porch there when I get it done."

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