Three people have been killed, and 20 others injured in a string of piranha attacks in Paraguay in the first six days of 2022, spreading fear among the locals.

The first victim was a 22-year-old man, who went missing while bathing in a river near Itá Enramada on Jan. 2. Following his disappearance, local authorities launched a search operation and 45 minutes later, he was found with bite marks all over his body. He was rushed to a local hospital, where he succumbed to injuries. Authorities later confirmed he was attacked by the fish, Rio Times Online reported.

The circumstances leading to the second victim’s death were also similar. The 49-year-old man was bathing in a river in the town of Puerto Rosario when he went missing. Following a search operation that lasted several hours, the victim’s body was found with bite marks on his face and feet, Merco Press reported. However, it was later confirmed the man drowned and was already dead when he was attacked by the fish.

On Tuesday, two youngsters lost their footing in the Tebicuary River in Villa Florida, following which they were attacked by the fierce fish, leading to their deaths.

Apart from these four unidentified victims, over a dozen bathers in the Paraná River were bitten by the piranhas. They suffered bites on their hands and feet. The authorities have not commented on the attacks.

Piranhas are native to lakes and rivers in South America. They are known as ferocious freshwater fish because of their razor-sharp teeth and powerful jaws. There are about 30 different piranha species, of which 20 are found in the Amazon River alone. Their diet consists of fish, snails and other aquatic animals. They also feed on plants, seeds and fruit.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, traveled to South America in 1913 during which he saw the locals feed a dead cow to a large group of piranhas.

In his book "Through the Brazilian Wilderness," he wrote, "They are the most ferocious fish in the world. Even the most formidable fish, the sharks or the barracudas, usually attack things smaller than themselves. But the piranhas habitually attack things much larger than themselves. They will snap a finger off a hand incautiously trailed in the water; they mutilate swimmers—in every river town in Paraguay there are men who have been thus mutilated; they will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast; for blood in the water excites them to madness. They will tear wounded wild fowl to pieces; and bite off the tails of big fish as they grow exhausted when fighting after being hooked."

Piranhas swim in the sweet water aquarium in Mora Southern Portugal March 21, 2007. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro