Often television stars travel with assistants in charge of makeup and wardrobe. Jeremy Wade brought a tank with a black piranha and a candiru to a recent appointment with the Associated Press.
Wade hosts Animal Planet’s River Monsters (9 p.m. Sundays), the network’s most popular series, where he goes around the world to find ugly and often legendary creatures that lurk in murky waters. Much of the season’s stories are set in the Amazon, hence the piranha and candiru. Toothy piranha — you already know about them. The candiru? You don’t want to. The tiny, eel-like creature has been known for very unpleasant infiltrations into humans.
The British Wade was an avid fisherman as a boy and was on the lookout for more adventure. He wrote an article on his six-year search for the arapaima, the largest freshwater fish in South America, that caught the eye of a television producer. He began working for Discovery in England, attracting the attention of Animal Planet. A special Wade did for Animal Planet attracted so much attention, it was expanded into the series.
River Monsters has been growing in viewership every season, according to Nielsen ratings.
About half the viewers are people who fish, Wade said. Many are attracted to the idea of seeing creatures they have never even heard of. Many of the fish are particularly ugly, he said.
Wade, when he catches the object of a show’s search, always releases it back to the wild.
He urges people who are near some of the waters featured on River Monsters not to be frightened, but to be aware of what fish might be near them and understand their behavior.
“One thing that concerns me slightly is that it does give the wrong impression, that everywhere you go there are huge fish that will bite your leg off,” Wade said. “In fact, you have to look for them.”
And, usually, human behavior causes the trouble. Don’t stick your toe in water where there’s a good likelihood you'll find piranha.
With River Monsters stretching on, Wade is feeling the challenge to find new stories. One creature he will hunt for in the Amazon region this season doesn’t live in a river.
“Every year we worry about running out,” he said.