Can piranhas really strip a cow to the bone in under a minute?

Can piranhas really strip a cow to the bone in under a minute? Author's Note

Articles like this one, which explore a pop-culture or common-knowledge "fact" and find the truth, fiction, or abiding mystery in it, are some of my favorite ones to write. This one in particular made my heart beat a little faster when I first received the assignment from my editor, because I believed I'd seen piranhas on a scuba-diving trip some years ago.

I hadn't, as I learned when I started researching and looking at pictures of these creatures. Heck, I wasn't even in South America.

As for actual piranhas, the cow myth turned out to be surprisingly, mostly true, even if the incident described by Teddy Roosevelt had been staged (that poor animal). Those relatively petite fish had, in fact, very quickly removed all of the flesh from a cow. Sure, they don't usually feed that way, but it's somehow morbidly pleasing to know it's possible (and will likely prevent my swimming in the Amazon if I'm ever lucky enough to make it there). Whether it was one minute or three minutes seems beside the point.


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  • Hungry piranha seeks good catch. BBC News. June 1, 2000.
  • Piranha. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Piranha. Extreme Science.
  • Piranha. HowStuffWorks.
  • Piranha increase "due to dams". BBC News. December 28, 2003.
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  • Rumble in the jungle with Amazon's killer piranha. LA Times. November 22, 2005.
  • Sutton, Keith "Catfish." Out there: Piranha! sutton_keith&page=g_col_sutton_piranha
  • The Truth About Piranha Attacks. Practical Fishkeeping.