A-z - Animals

Piranha

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Piranha is a generic name used to refer to any of possibly more than 60 species of freshwater fish with sharp teeth.

Piranhas are notorious for being ferocious creatures that can feed in a frenzy and become deadly. However, they actually eat a wide variety of foods, including plants and carrion. Piranhas are fairly small, usually less than two feet, and often travel in small groups called shoals.

Piranha infographic
Piranhas can regrow their teeth there.

© AZ-Animals.com

5 Unbelievable Piranha Facts!

  • This fish's reputation for aggressiveness is exaggerated, thanks in part to Theodore Roosevelt's book Across the Wilds of Brazil.
  • These fish may become more aggressive when hungry. If trapped in a pool of stagnant water for an extended period of time, they are likely to attack anything that enters the water.
  • Black piranhas have the most powerful bite of any bony fish.
  • The fish's top and bottom teeth act like scissors to quickly tear and cut through food.
  • Piranhas are constantly losing and growing teeth like sharks.

You can check out more incredible facts about piranhas.

taxonomic name

Piranha is the common name for a variety of fish in the family Serrasalmidae or subfamily Serrasalminae, which also belong to the fourth family Characidae in the order Characiformes. Piranha species exist in several genera, including:

  • catoprio
  • Periwinkle
  • pitaya
  • Tail edge
  • S. sawtooth

These fish are sometimes called caribe or piraya. Some species-specific scientific names include red-bellied piranha ( Pygocentrus nattereri ), leaf-toothed piranha ( Pygocentrus denticulata ), San Francisco piranha ( Pygocentrus piraya ) and black piranha ( Serrasalmus rhombeus ).



Red-bellied piranhas Pygocentrus nattereri or red piranhas in their habitat.
The scientific name of the piranha is Pygocentrus.

©Tatiana Belova/Shutterstock.com

evolution

The discovery of the Megapiranha paranensis fossil is a major breakthrough in understanding the evolution of piranhas. The 5-centimeter-long upper jaw and its serrated teeth suggest that modern piranhas and piranhas shared a common ancestor. The fossil also revealed other features that helped scientists estimate its size, which was much larger than any modern species at 3 feet long. In comparison, modern piranhas are only around 17 inches. It's worth noting that there are many misconceptions about how dangerous and aggressive piranhas really are. Contrary to popular belief, most species actually eat insects or plants rather than meat, and rarely attack humans if they can.

piranha underwater
Modern piranhas are up to 17 inches long. Their prehistoric ancestors were three feet long!

©Jinny Jin/Shutterstock.com

Types of piranhas

The exact number of species is unknown, but it is thought to range from 30 to 60 or more. The most notorious species is the red-bellied piranha, which lives in South America, mainly in the Amazon along with several other piranha species.

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Some notable species facts include:

  • Red-bellied piranha : This fish lives mainly in the Amazon and is the most notorious of the piranha species, with the strongest jaws and sharpest teeth.
  • Black Piranha : Also known as the Red-Eyed Piranha, this fish is considered the largest of the species and is known for having the strongest bite relative to its body weight.
  • Lobetooth piranha : This species is also considered dangerous to humans and lives mainly in the Orinoco River Basin and lower tributaries of the Amazon.
  • San Francisco Piranha : Primarily found in the San Francisco River in Brazil, this species can also attack large animals and humans, but usually preys on smaller animals.
  • Wimple piranha : This fish survives by biting the fins and scales of other fish and then swimming away.
Largest Piranha - Red-Eyed Piranha
Some piranhas have red eyes.

© guentermanaus/Shutterstock.com

appearance

The color of these fish varies from species to species. For example, the red-bellied piranha is gray with white spots and a red belly. Black piranhas are a uniform gray to almost black color with distinctive red eyes. Piranha species have a characteristic rhomboid shape. They are usually between 6 and 13 inches in length, but some species can grow up to two feet in length. Fish usually weigh no more than 6.6 lbs. They have a recognizable jaw shape with large jaw muscles that connect to the tip of the jaw, making it slightly prominent. The fish's teeth are sharp and serrated, which makes them very good at tearing apart fish flesh quickly.

Piranha fish swimming in water

© ChocoPie/Shutterstock.com

Distribution, Population and Habitat

These are freshwater fish, native to the Amazon basin. Some species have been found in Bangladesh, China and even the United States, but these usually escape from exotic fish traders. Many species are found in only a single river system, while others, such as the red-bellied piranha, are found in multiple river systems in South America. Some species prefer turbid, slow-moving waters and often live in very shallow water. However, other species live in deep channels and muddy water.

These fish are widely distributed and are not threatened. Small fish are mainly active during the day. Large and medium-sized fish are active at dawn, dusk and night.

There are only a small number of commercial fisheries for these fish, as well as sport fishing. Some species are used as ornamental fish, but are illegal as pets in many areas. They are considered a nuisance by fishermen because they often steal bait, take fish off the line and damage gear.

Piranhas are freshwater fish native to the Amazon Basin.

© Aurelie Chaumat – Public Domain

predator and prey

Most species are opportunistic predators. They can eat just about anything, from plants to other fish, insects, carrion, worms, and more. Some species are adept at eating scales, eating primarily by biting off the scales or fins of other fish. This is more common in juvenile fish and smaller species. Piranhas also frequently forage for food.

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What eats piranhas?

These fish are often eaten by anything larger than it, including turtles, crocodiles, other fish, dolphins, and many waterfowl. They were also hunted by humans and used as food fish, or their teeth were used for carving by various South American tribes.

What do piranhas eat?

These fish are omnivorous and eat a wide variety of foods including fruits, seeds, insects and other fish. They may hunt large animals that enter their habitat in packs. A large enough group can kill a sizable animal very quickly. However, they don't usually travel in packs, and they usually attack weak or injured animals.

Piranhas eat fish, crustaceans, insects, and algae.

© AZ-Animals.com

Reproduction and Lifespan

The reproductive habits of most species are relatively unknown. Most known breeding behaviors have been observed in aquariums. These fish can usually reproduce at one year old. The female lays thousands of eggs near dense vegetation, to which the eggs stick. The male fertilizes the eggs, which then hatch two or three days later. Young fish will hide in vegetation until they are old enough to defend themselves. Parents usually swim around them to protect their nesting grounds. These fish can live up to ten years in captivity, but how long they can live in the wild is unknown.

Piranha fish with open mouth
Female piranhas lay thousands of eggs.

© Alberto Loyo/Shutterstock.com

fishing and cooking

These fish have minor commercial fishing interest and some recreational fishing interest. Grabbing them is fairly simple, but the main key is a tangled line above the hook. Fishermen typically use pieces of meat and aggressively flick or dangle their lines to attract piranhas. Piranhas will usually sweep the bait quickly before it is pulled up. Fish must be handled with great care as they can bite. They also have sharp ridges on their undersides that can cut through the skin and inject bacteria.

These fish are eaten, usually grilled whole. They are mostly eaten in their native South America. The taste was described as very salty, fishy and slightly cooked.

Piranha (Colossoma macropomum) in the aquarium on green background

©Andrei Armiagov/Shutterstock.com

Population and Protection

There is no global data on how many of these fish are left in the world. They are not listed as threatened or endangered by IUCN, CITES or USFWS. New species are still being discovered. The status of all piranha species is currently classified as "least concern".

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about the author

Heather Hall


I'm a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by nature. When I do my daily runs, I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I have two dogs that take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

Piranha FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are piranhas herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Piranhas are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.

To which kingdom do piranhas belong?

Piranhas belong to the animal kingdom.

Which category do piranhas belong to?

Piranhas belong to the class of actinofin fishes.

What phylum do piranhas belong to?

Piranhas belong to the phylum Chordate.

What family do piranhas belong to?

Piranhas belong to the piranha family.

What order do piranhas belong to?

Piranhas belong to the order Characiformes.

What type of mulch do piranhas have?

Piranhas are covered with scales.

What genus do piranhas belong to?

Piranhas belong to the genus Piranha.

What type of habitat do piranhas live in?

Piranhas live in fast-moving rivers and Amazon basins.

What is the main prey of piranhas?

Piranhas eat fish, insects, snails and plants.

Who are the natural enemies of piranhas?

Predators of piranhas include puffer fish, crocodiles and turtles.

What are the distinctive features of piranhas?

Piranhas have round heads and a single row of triangular teeth.

How many eggs do piranhas lay?

Piranhas typically lay 5,000 eggs.

What are some interesting facts about piranhas?

Piranhas are often found in rushing streams!

What is the lifespan of a piranha?

Piranhas can live 20 to 25 years.

What is the optimal pH for piranhas?

The optimum pH for piranhas is between 6.0 and 8.0.

What is a piranha?

Piranhas are small to medium-sized bony freshwater fish that live in South America.

What do piranhas eat?

Piranhas are omnivorous and opportunistic, eating almost any plant or animal.

What eats piranhas?

Piranhas are eaten by other fish, birds, reptiles and humans.

Can piranhas eat people?

Despite their dangerous reputation, piranha attacks are rarely fatal. Piranhas travel in protective groups called shoals, but they rarely hunt in them. Foraging frenzy usually only happens when food is scarce. Piranhas may eat human carcasses that end up in their habitat, as they are notorious scavengers.

Where do piranhas live?

Piranhas are widespread throughout South America and live in many types of freshwater habitats, including lakes, rivers, creeks, and stagnant pools.

Where are piranhas found?

Piranhas are mainly found in freshwater areas of South America.

How do piranhas give birth?

Piranhas spawn.

Piranhas vs Sharks: Who Will Win the Battle?

Sharks will beat piranhas in battle.

We can break this fight in many ways, but the piranhas need to act unusually to have a chance of killing a shark. The shark just needs to rip them apart with its strength and speed, even if it takes a little time.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the 10hunting.com editorial team.

source
  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/piranha-fish
  2. Wikipedia, available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redeye_piranha
  3. Seaworld Parks & Entertainment, available here: https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/bony-fish/piranhas/
  4. Live Science, available here: https://www.livescience.com/57963-piranha-facts.html
  5. Fish Base, available here: http://www.fishbase.us/summary/SpeciesSummary.php?ID=4501&AT=piranha