Facts about piranhas: Is it safe to keep a red-bellied piranha at home?
Piranhas are terrifying creatures popular for their razor-sharp teeth and appetite for meat. Back in the 70’s next to the great white shark movie ‘Jaws’, piranhas had been another reason to fear the water.
I had a chance to examine a real piranha thirteen years ago. It was about ten inches and had really sharp teeth in single row in both jaws. Fortunately, it was dead too. This piranha was preserved as a mere tourist souvenir display.
It was two years ago when I saw a real piranha the second time.
A red-bellied piranha for a red pacu?
My husband likes unique animals. Two years ago, he was discussing a pond of a friend with some piranhas in it. Naturally, I found it dangerous, distasteful and not to mention, illegal. I knew where he was getting at, but didn’t ask for my permission. A week after that, I found a new fish swimming in our aquarium along with our kois, parrot and weather- fishes. The new fish was pretty. It has a pinkish color and scales that sparkles under the light. I remembered the piranha I examined years ago then dismissed the idea. I told myself, my husband wouldn’t dare keep a piranha in our house.
My husband told me the fish was a red pacu. He even showed its picture from the internet. However, later that evening he admitted that the fish was really a Pygocentrus nattereri – a red-bellied piranha.
Piranhas are actually fresh water types and omnivores. They eat fish, plants and insects. They belong to the subfamily Serrasalminae , within the family Charicidae. Being under the Serrasalminae, piranhas are related to pacu and silver dollar since the latter two also fall under the group.
Piranhas are schooling fish; they travel in group to protect themselves from predators. They have poor eyesight but have sharp senses for hearing and smell.
Not all piranhas kill. Piranhas under the Catoprion genus simply nibble on their preys. They chew a little bit of a prey’s fin or scales then let it grow back. After several weeks, Catoprion piranhas can feed on the same prey again.
There are many species of piranhas. However, four genera- the Pristobrycon, Pygocentrus, Pygopristis and Serrasalmus are recognized as real piranhas because of their notable sets of teeth.
The red-bellied piranha as a pygocentrus is considered as a true piranha – a meat eating killer. But despite of its fearsome reputation, red bellied piranha can be also kept as an aquarium fish.
Image by the author (Frank – December 2009)
Is it safe to keep a red-bellied piranha at home?
Contrary to cartoon series when someone gets hurt while dipping his finger into the water with a piranha in it, red-bellied piranhas are rather shy, at least when they are alone. They only attack other fish when really hungry by nipping their fins. They also feast on dead fish and on regular fish food. My husband only feeds Frank raw pork meat, about the size of a matchbox every week. Like any other fish, piranha needs frequent water changes however compared to regular aquarium fishes, piranhas are considered sturdier. While most fish die on dirty water, piranhas can endure longer.
© Phoenix Montoya @ May 17, 2011
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