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Piranhas have a reputation as the most ferocious fish in the world. With razor sharp teeth, they hunt in packs, stripping a body of its flesh in minutes. In this programme, biologist and extreme angler Jeremy Wade examines whether piranhas deserve the reputation they've gained as one of the biggest terrors in the water.

Jeremy travels to Brazil to find out what lurks under the murky waters of the Amazon and attempts to get to the bottom of stories of piranha attacks on humans. Scientists have determined that there are some 60 different species in the piranha sub-family, yet the majority of them are actually vegetarian. It is the flesh eating behaviour of just a couple of species that gives them their reputation.

Before setting off Jeremy visits London Zoo to speak to Brian Zimmerman, an expert on piranhas.

So are the stories of piranha attacks on humans just myth and imagination? On arrival in Manaus, the city at the heart of the Amazon, Jeremy heads to the local fish market. With over 3000 species of fish found in the Amazon River, more than the entire Atlantic Ocean, there's no shortage of strange looking river monsters here and it's the home of many a gruesome fisherman's tale. It's not long before the locals are regaling Jeremy with stories of piranhas attacking people, but unable to track down any definite details, Jeremy heads to the Amazon to find the fish for himself.

The Amazon River is 4,250 miles long and piranhas are so common you can catch them almost anywhere, instead of using his usual high tech fishing gear and stealth tactics.

Within minutes he has caught a red bellied piranha which can grow up to a foot long. A protruding jawbone with large chomping muscles means that when the mouth is closed, the triangular teeth from both jaws lock together like a bear trap. They predominantly hunt fish, but they will eat the meat of almost any animal that crosses their path.

Undeterred, Jeremy jumps into the river and he is not attacked by the piranhas. He then sets up an experiment in a small swimming pool with 100 red-bellied piranhas which haven't eaten for days. The fish react to the blood that Jeremy pours into the pool, and attack the piece of meat that he gives them, so he decides to see how they react to something that is alive, and steps into the pool.

Jeremy remembers hearing an account of a bus that crashed into the Amazon in the 1970s where several of the passengers' bodies were found eaten by piranhas. He unearths a newspaper report from the time and explains, "It reports that on the 14th of November, 1976, the bus was travelling from Manuas to the town of Itacoatiara, a journey of about five hours. After driving through the night it crashed into a tributary of the Amazon killing 39 passengers. The newspaper also mentions the name of a survivor Dirceu Araujo. I've managed to track him down to find out what he can remember from that fateful day."

Dirceu takes Jeremy to the spot where the accident happened and explains how he escaped from the bus through a window. But when the rescuers arrived a couple of hours later, it was too late for any remaining passengers, he remembers.

So although Jeremy has found the bus crash he remembered, because the rescuers arrived so long after the accident, it is still unclear whether the piranhas attacked their victims alive or if they just fed on the corpses after they had drowned. But Jeremy has details of another case where eight piranha attacks happened on one beach on an artificial lake in just one weekend at the end of the dry season in December 2005.

In a period of seven months swimmers suffered individual piranha bites and unlike the bus crash they were not injured, trapped or bleeding. But Brian Zimmerman has an explanation.

Jeremy then travels to a village built on the river which is known as the Piranha Reserve. To test out his theory that piranha are attracted to the thrashing of a distressed animal, Jeremy puts a freshly killed duck into the river on the banks of the village and moves it vigorously and watches the piranhas attack .

Jeremy meets some of the families who live in the village and deal with the piranhas on a daily basis. Speaking to one of the residents Jeremy explains, "one of his grandsons accidentally fell into the piranha-infested water just outside the front of their house and tragically, they couldn't reach him in time and the piranhas lived up to their fearsome reputation."

In travelling to this remote part of Brazil, Jeremy found what he was looking for, a first-hand account of piranhas attacking, killing, and eating a human.
Presenter - JEREMY WADE

Original Music - AUDIO NETWORKS

Series Producer - ANDIE CLARE
Executive Producers for Icon Films - HARRY MARSHALL, LAURA MARSHALL
Executive Producer for Animal Planet - MICK KACZOROWSKI

Produced for Discovery Communications, LLC
By Icon Films Limited in association with itv Global Entertainment
? 2009
? Icon Films Limited 2008