Kangal fish can be called “biting fish” because they like to eat dead skin.
Kangal fish are fish that have adapted to the warm, mineral-rich environment of water in springs located in parts of Turkey and Western Asia. These natural fish often appear in outdoor spa pools, when an interesting fish characteristic was observed: these fish like to eat dead or diseased skin, offering natural debridement for anyone who wants to jump into the water with the fish.
Fish therapy can be beneficial for people suffering from psoriasis.
These fish are also known as medical fish or biting fish. Two distinct species of fish appear to have evolved the skin-eating behavior: Cyprinion mactrostomus and Garra rufa. Of the two, G. rufa seems to be the best known. In Turkey, Kangal fish are protected, due to concerns that overharvesting the fish for foreign trade could threaten the health of fish populations.
Although the relationship between bathers and Kangal fish probably started out as a novelty, it has since become quite profitable commercially. Spas in Turkey, Japan and the United States offer Kangal fish treatments to customers at a premium price, sometimes as part of spa packages targeted at people with skin conditions like psoriasis.
These fish are not harmful because they do not eat living tissue. The warm mineralized water softens the skin, making it easier for the fish to nibble on the dead skin, leaving behind healthy, lively skin. For people with painful skin conditions, biting fish can bring temporary relief, especially if treatments are repeated regularly. Others simply relish the novelty of a Kangal fish pedicure or full-body exfoliation.
In an environment with a variety of foods to choose from, Kangal fish often prefer food to dead skin. The skin-eating behavior likely arose in response to the minimal resources available, which forced fish to be creative in finding nutrition. Several other fish species exhibit this behavior under stressful conditions, suggesting that fish simply recognize a potential source of sustenance when they see it.
In addition to being kept in spas, these fish can also be kept in private aquariums. They can be a little difficult to raise because they require water with the right balance of minerals and the right temperature. Several companies breed Kangal fish for sale to private collectors and spas.