Piranha also known as Caribes are omnivorous freshwater fish that live and feed in the rivers and lakes of South America, more notably around the Amazon and Venezuela. This page explains some of the facts and dispels some of the myths about these curious fish.
They are very aggressive meat eaters and attack their prey in large shoals, ripping and tearing them apart with their razor sharp pointed teeth.
Piranha's belong to the Characin Characidae family or the Serrasalmidae sub family of fish which also include the Pacus fish that is herbivorous by nature but still has a good set of gnashers. Research has shown that the Piranha will also eat vegetation and does not just rely on meat for its staple diet.
Research has shown that in fact its only a small number of species like the Red-Bellies that are actually meat eaters, the majority of Piranha fish are vegetarians otherwise called herbivores.
The number of different Piranha species is not exactly known as new species are being discovered all the time but it has recently been estimated that maybe forty or so are actually in existence.
The fact that Piranha fish are only found in certain areas of the world helps to suggest that the number of species at forty is fairly accurate. The places where they are most common are in the Amazonian regions, the rivers around Paraguay and also Guyana.
Some species of Piranha have been discovered further out of their normal habitat in such places as waters around Bangladesh and even rivers in the U.S.A such as the Potomac. However, it must be said that these warm water, warm climate tropical fish do not survive well in the colder waters of the U.S.A and hence is doubtful they will ever thrive there.
It is thought that Piranha fish were deliberately let loose in these waters for whatever reason rather than by more natural means. They may have initially been bought as a pets and the owners got tired of looking after them and let them loose. Perhaps this was a better method then just killing them or flushing them down the loo!
As tropical fish go, the Piranha is quite a bland, boring and ugly looking fish, there is practically no color in it at all.
Piranha fish typically grow to about twenty five centimeters in length although it has been recorded that some species have been discovered up to one foot seven inches in length.
Apart from a flash of red scales on their underside (the aptly named Red-Belly variety) the Piranha is quite a bland looking fish as most of the photos on this page will attest. It is merely the fishes reputation that creates the fascination of them.
Every species of Piranha fish have a set of razor sharp teeth, a row at the bottom and top of the jaw. The business part of the Piranha are of course its teeth, and these teeth grow very close together, the top and bottom teeth actually interlock with each other with small cusps.
The teeth are designed to puncture via a stabbing effect and then to rip and shear off the flesh in one movement. The cross section of a Piranhas tooth shows that it is triangular and pointed like a knife blade, the profile of which is very flat, ideally suited to the task of shearing off chunks of flesh from its prey.
Natives living in the same areas as Piranha like to catch them as Piranha's teeth are used to make small arrow heads for their darts, tools and other articles that the natives use in their everyday life in the Jungle.
It must be said here that when the natives catch Piranha fish, they are cooked up into a tasty meal and the fish forms a part of their daily sustenance intake. Below is a dish of fried piranha that is eaten with a spicy dip.
The Piranha fish has an awesome reputation and is often portrayed in the movies as a ferocious under water monster, hell bent on attacking. Often portraying that Piranha's always attack in packs and will strip to the bone in seconds anything that is unfortunate enough to be in the water at the same time.
Well this is not strictly accurate, in fact its a lot inaccurate as they will certainly attack stricken animals in the water but the local natives who often paddle far out into the same waters to catch fish, do so without hindrance and impunity.
It is thought that Piranha's swim together and attack together to present a much mightier foe in the waters and also, more instinctively...there is always safety in numbers.
Piranha fish will not attack people who dare to venture into the same waters as is commonly thought. To get Piranhas to attack, you would have to thrash about with blood dripping from cuts in your flesh to attract them.
Piranha fish have the same sensory system as sharks that enable them to detect tiny amounts of blood in the water, so it is believed that swimming with an open cut may enhance the chance of an attack, otherwise they tend to ignore people.
In fact as stated, the local natives stand in the same waters as the Piranhas to cast their nets to catch fish and injuries from Piranha bites are rare.
Rare, but not uncommon as Piranhas do occasionally nip at bathers and fishermen but fatalities or gross traumatic injury caused by them is more often than not only in a storytellers imagination, told for effect and sensationalism and the all glorious I was there, I saw scenario.
More closer to the truth, Piranhas are just a pest to the locals as they bite holes in fishing nets and also go for the bait on the end of a fisherman's line, and that's about it. Hollywood productions have a lot to answer for.
Piranha fish have grown in popularity by people who like to keep tropical fish and many people now keep Piranhas in aquariums in the home. The most common Piranha that is kept as a pet is the Red-Bellied Pygocentrus Nattereri Piranha as it is a meat eater.
These can be bough as baby fish or as fully grown adults. To keep these fish you need to keep them in even groups of four, six, eight or ten depending on the size of your tank.
If you only place two Piranhas in a tank together they will fight for territory and the weakest fish will be killed, but when four are kept this does not happen and they live together.
It must be remembered that these fish are naturally aggressive and if say odd numbers of three or five or seven fish are put together then they will gang up and attack the odd one's out of the pack.
Piranhas have to be fed regularly and properly, if feeding is missed then they can turn on each other and friendship goes out of the window in a fight for survival. They can be fed with raw steak or fish chunks, also bloodworms and special dried flake food like ZooPlankton Plus.
Some people of a more cruel nature take glee in dropping a live mouse into the Piranha tank and watch as the mouse is ripped alive to shreds. It must be said that some pet shops actually breed and sell these feeder mice specially for those inclined to feed their pet Python, Tarantula or indeed Piranha, live food stuffs.
Something that I would not take pleasure in seeing and would not like to participate in. I saw a distasteful YouTube video of this and thought it unsuitable for my website. In nature a mouse takes its chances like the rest of natures animals, but this is deemed not nice almost an execution.
However, mice are all safe from this type of terrible death in the following States of America, where it is illegal to buy, sell and keep any sort of Piranha fish...Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, South and North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
On a final note about Piranha's attacking people...
THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
Although Piranha fish won't attack people per sé, it has to be said that they will attack people if given the right opportunity. And one such opportunity arose very early one morning at 03:30am on Saturday, September, 19th, 1981.
An over laden and top heavy Brazilian river boat, the Sobral Santos II that was carrying 530 people and over 200 tons of cargo, capsized in 260 feet of piranha infested water, near the port of Óbidos, Para, on the Amazon River.
Above is an image of the Sobral Santos II as she is seen today..having been renamed Cisne Branco. She still ferries people across the Pirana infested Amazon.
When the boat capsized, people were injured receiving cuts etc, consequently there was blood and people thrashing about in the water. This was the perfect combination, like ringing a dinner gong...the piranhas homed in.
Only 182 people survived, they managed to swim to the river bank. The other 348 people were eaten alive by thousands of hungry piranhas in a mass feeding frenzy. The remains of only four bodies were ever found.
It is both the largest ever maritime disaster in the Amazon and most recorded loss of life due to attacks from piranha fish.
There are more deadly varieties of fish in the world, in the rivers of Africa particularly and in the Congo specifically, where this rather frightening Tiger Fish was caught! The Tiger fish almost looks prehistoric and perhaps it is!
Now that's what I call a set of teeth, this thing could bite your entire leg off!
Now imagine this fish going ballistic at you under water, you wouldn't stand a chance. Now imagine a whole shoal of them having a feeding frenzy...Piranha's, who needs Piranha's?
Joking aside, whether or not this fish would attack a person in the same waters is not something I think anyone would care to find out. So the simple message is, don't go swimming or paddling in the Congo!
Page created November 1st 2008. Updated December 16th 2012.