By STEWART CARR
UNITED Kingdom — The bodies of four swimmers have been found mauled by piranhas in a spate of attacks that have sent shockwaves throughout South America.
The attacks happened in Paraguay, where people have visited local rivers in large numbers during the current heatwave in order to cool down.
The first death of the New Year happened on Sunday when a 22-year-old man was bathing in the Paraguay River.
The alarm was raised when he suddenly vanished, and when his body was eventually found 45 minutes later, several parts had been torn off and eaten by the piranhas.
The second attack also happened on the Paraguay River when a 49-year-old man was found dead after being attacked by piranhas.
He had been reported missing hours earlier, and he was also found with severe bites to the face. In this case, however, it is believed the man died from a heart attack, and only then was he attacked by the piranhas.
The Paraguay River is one of the biggest in the country, in the Ita Enramada neighborhood, just south of the capital Asuncion.
Two other people were found dead with piranha bites on their bodies in the Tebicuary river on Sunday.
There have been further alleged attacks, which were not fatal but resulted in serious injuries, on the Parana River at the Bella Vista Fishing Club, which is in the department of Itapua.
The attacks follow on from other incidents reported in Argentina recently, including a teenage girl who had a toe bitten off.
According to local media, such attacks occur during hot weather. They are more common during the summer when the fish reproduce and come close to the coast when water levels are low.
After the latest attacks that left 20 injured and at least two people dead, Argentinian biologist Julio Caply revealed that although there are eight species of piranhas in the country, the attacks are usually made by only two — the serrasalmus marginatus and serrasalmus maculatus species.
The biologist said that the killer fish are mainly present in the Parana and Paraguay rivers, saying that they tend to hide under floating plants before suddenly rushing out to attack victims.