There’s something about a murky river that can give even the biggest water enthusiast the heebie-jeebies. Could you swim to shore if you got into trouble? Can you touch the bottom? What could be lurking in that dark water? These are just some of the thoughts that might pop into your head. So with that in mind, here are 20 river monsters that prowl the world’s waters – can you tackle the full list?
20. Wels catfish
The bottom-dwelling wels catfish lurks in the rivers and streams of Europe, where it can reach a length of 16 feet. The massive beast usually feeds on invertebrates, smaller fish and frogs. Yet if that food source becomes scarce, it will take some amazing initiative. In some places, for example, the catfish has been seen hurling itself out of the water to chow down on a pigeon near the shore. Yikes!
19. Giant grouper
While the giant grouper is usually found patrolling the coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, it will occasionally venture into estuaries. It can grow to almost nine feet in length and can tip the scales at 880 pounds. Not even sharks are safe from the jaws of this behemoth, and it’s even been linked to attacks on humans. Dare you dip your toe in the water?
18. Giant freshwater stingray
The mysterious giant freshwater stingray may just win the trophy as the largest freshwater cartilaginous fish. It can measure over 16 feet in length and hunts for mollusks and crustaceans in the rivers of Australia and Southeast Asia. And while it isn’t aggressive, its whip-like tail features a sharp barb that can slice through bone. Ouch!
17. Giant salamander
At almost six feet, the giant salamander is the biggest amphibian on the planet. It prowls in the rivers and lakes of China, munching on fish and invertebrates. But take heart – this salamander is critically endangered due to hunting and habitat loss, so you’re unlikely to stumble across it.
16. Goonch catfish
Planning a trip to south Asia? Watch out for the wide-mouthed goonch catfish; it enjoys the taste of human flesh! Indeed, although its usual diet is small fish, invertebrates and amphibians, it’s also been linked to three fatal attacks on people in the Kali River region. According to locals, the six-foot-long fish gained an appetite for humans after chomping on charred remains from riverside funeral pyres.
15. Alligator snapping turtle
Move over T. rex, the prehistoric-looking alligator snapping turtle is not to be messed with! After all, that massive mouth and strong jaw can make short work of pretty much anything that ventures too close. What’s more, not even small alligators are safe from this monster. It resides in the southeastern United States, where the biggest specimens can grow to over 220 pounds.
14. Bull shark
Think that Jaws is scary? Well, some experts believe that it’s not great whites but bull sharks that are the most dangerous shark species. Bull sharks can top out at over 11 feet and will happily cruise into estuaries and rivers, unlike most other sharks. Furthermore, the widespread species is not afraid of attacking animals much bigger than itself; it’ll even have a go at hippos.
The arapaima can grow to a ginormous nine feet in length and weigh as much as 440 pounds. One of the Amazon native’s multiple talents is the ability to breathe air. In addition, its bony tongue comes furnished with its very own set of teeth to make short work of any meal. Scarier still, this beast of a fish has swum out from South America to invade other regions and is the prime suspect behind the drownings of two men in Malaysia in 2009.
12. White sturgeon
Imagine this creature emerging from the murky water! A white sturgeon can reach an incredible 20 feet in length and weigh nearly 1,800 pounds. But as well as being bigger than you, it’s likely also older as well: after all, these monsters can reach the grand ol’ age of 100 years old. The white sturgeon calls western North America its home, where it feeds on fish, mollusks and shellfish.
11. Mekong catfish
In Southeast Asia’s Mekong basin lurks a fish that’s as huge as a grizzly bear. But don’t worry: the Mekong catfish lacks teeth of any kind and is completely herbivorous. Sadly, though, its numbers are dwindling due to habitat loss and overfishing, and as a result this gentle giant is currently classed as critically endangered.
10. Green anaconda
It’s not just massive fish you have to be aware of on fishing expeditions: reptiles can be a problem as well! The South American green anaconda, for example, can exceed 29 feet in length and is the heaviest snake on the planet, tipping the scales at over 550 pounds. And nothing is safe from those muscular coils, which can engulf even large predators like jaguars and caiman.
9. Electric eel
Another mega beast hailing from the Amazon is a fish with the common name electric eel. In addition to being well over eight feet in length, this fish is also capable of generating 600 volts of electricity; in comparison, a standard U.S. plug socket is 120 volts. And while it rarely kills humans, numerous shocks can cause heart failure. Re-volt-ing!
8. Nile perch
Originating from sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile perch has since spread throughout the continent. Its voracious appetite for fish and crustaceans, moreover, has led to it being classed as one of the worst invasive species on Earth. Luckily, while its six-foot, 400-pound bulk could certainly give you something to think about, it’s not aggressive to humans.
7. Alligator gar
We don’t fancy tangling with those teeth! This fish lives in the southeastern United States where it feeds on fish, birds, turtles and even dead animals. But while, at ten feet in length and weighing 300 pounds, the alligator gar certainly looks dangerous, any potential attacks on humans are unknown. Just stay away from its eggs – they’re poisonous!
Incredibly, paddlefish stalked the planet at the same time as dinosaurs, making them today a living fossil. Fortunately, though, while that huge mouth might look like it could swallow a human whole, the five-foot creature feeds only on plankton, which it sifts from the water in its Mississippi River habitat.
5. Giant otter
Otters – cute and cuddly, right? Not when it’s one of these beasts. This slippery carnivore comes from South America and can grow to nearly six feet in length. And although it generally eats fish and crabs, occasionally it will work as part of a team to take down much larger prey such as young caiman or anacondas. We’ll be giving this one a wide berth.
Not surprisingly, another name for the Amazonian payara is the “vampire piranha.” Indeed, while the payara only reaches lengths of around three feet, those massive fangs can grow to six inches. And, as well as feeding on smaller fish, this species will also happily tuck in to its own kind.
3. Golden dorado
While the South American golden dorado might not look that frightening, appearances can be deceiving. This lightning-fast predator is known for its aggressive nature, powerful jaws and fearless attitude. In fact, those teeth and jaws are so vicious that they can bite a fishing line in two.
That’s one mean-looking face! The pike is widespread across the northern hemisphere and is known for its aggressive nature. As an ambush predator, for example, it lies stock still, waiting for its prey to come close. Then the wily fish uses its quick reactions and sharp teeth to kill its dinner. Indeed, nothing is off the menu: it will eat fish, other pike, amphibians and even ducklings.
1. Goliath tiger fish
The terrifying Goliath tiger fish from Africa’s Congo basin grows to almost five feet and 110 pounds. And while it tends to feed on fish, there are reports of it taking on humans and even crocodiles! Furthermore, those monstrous teeth are approximately the same size as a great white shark’s – all in all, making it one fish you don’t want to mess with.