Girl needs surgery for piranha bite to finger

AN 18-month-old toddler needed surgery after a piranha bit her finger.

An investigation into the incident, which happened at the Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World on Monday afternoon, has been launched by both the centre and Midlothian Council.

The tropical fish was still attached to the girl’s finger when she was pulled away from the tank.

She was taken to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children where she had plastic surgery to repair the wound. She was kept overnight for observation before returning home with her family.

She had been on a tour of the centre with her mother when she was bitten.

James Barnes, managing director of the centre, said they were unsure how the child had been bitten, and said a full investigation was under way.

"At the moment we don’t quite know how this happened," he said.

"We have around 13,000 children visiting the centre every year and this is the first time we have had an incident like this.

"The tank is raised almost a metre from the ground and we are very careful about safety, but obviously we will need to see how this incident happened, especially to such a small child, and what we need to do to prevent it happening again.

"The tank has been closed off, and I am keeping in touch with the family to let them know what we are doing."

It is understood there are signs around the tank warning of the dangerous fish and urging the public not to put their fingers in the water.

The height of the tank and the possibility of installing extra security were just two of the issues being looked at, and the centre said any action needed to ensure visitor safety would be taken as soon as possible.

The Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World, located within the grounds of Dobbies Garden World, Lasswade, is a very popular tourist attraction.

As well as hundreds of species of butterfly, it also has scorpions, the deadly South American poison arrow frog, a Royal Python and a tarantula on display. Mr Barnes explained that while the fish that bit the child was a piranha, it was not the type which hunts in aggressive packs in the Amazon River.

"This is actually a Pacu, which our staff have nicknamed a ‘Banana Piranha’ as they feed it slices of banana," he said.

"It will eat meat, but it prefers to feed on fruit. It is not the same as the carnivorous piranha, which hunts in packs and feeds on meat. The Pacu is a solitary fish and is one of six or seven species of fish we have."

The South American fish was chosen to go on display as it fitted in with the tropical atmosphere the centre has created to host the butterflies.

A spokeswoman said Midlothian Council would be investigating the accident.

"We can confirm that we are currently carrying out an investigation under Health and Safety at Work legislation, following a report of an incident at Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World," she said.

The Pacu is thought to be less aggressive than a piranha, though some specimens can grow up to 60cm long and have been known to attack other fish.

Deep Sea World zoological manager Matthew Kane looks after both Pacus and their extremely vicious carnivorous cousin, Red Bellied Piranhas.

And he said it was not surprising the fish had gone for the child’s fingers.

"Pacus will eat anything, even children’s wiggling fingers," he said.

"They would have seen a hand above the water and would be expecting food.

"It’s just their natural behaviour. The fish don’t know what they are eating until they take a bite."

The Pacu has a crushing jaw system designed for biting nuts and can easily crush a walnut in its mouth.

There are around 80 piranha species in the world but only 20 are carnivorous.