Red-bellied Piranha: An Aquarium Pet

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.


Image source

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.

Piranha facts

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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18 Responses to “Red-bellied Piranha: An Aquarium Pet”
  1. Ima Vee Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 1:37 am

    wow… interesting… so it really is safe to keep piranhas at home… I thought they are all dangerous…

    Nice share Phoenix…:)

  2. Starpisces Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 3:09 am

    very interesting write.

  3. Brewed Coffee Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 5:34 am

    I still wouldn’t dream of having a pet piranha. I’m better off with my obnoxious turtle. LOL! :-) Great facts here Phoenix. Have learned a lot.

  4. Jimmy Shilaho Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 8:04 am

    I have heard from movies that these pets of yours eat men like me, hope your husband doesn’t move near them so much even though you think they are shy.

  5. CHAN LEE PENG Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Interestingly, piranha can stand longer in the dirty water. Great discovery, kabayyan!

  6. BC Doan Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Good to know that the red-bellied piranha only eats when hungry, and it maybe good that they also clean the aquarium..

  7. 1hopefulman Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    “It was about ten inches.” I didn’t know they were so big. I will keep my distance.

  8. Macherie Says...

    On May 17, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    hahaha.. you have a sneaky husband dear.=) I could not imagine keeping a fish, much more a piranha sa

  9. Anuradha Ramkumar Says...

    On May 18, 2011 at 12:22 am

    I never knew these could be pets…

  10. papaleng Says...

    On May 18, 2011 at 3:05 am

    Bez, pwede bigyan mo rin ako nyan. Ireregalo ko sa misis ko, wala naman alam yun kung piranha yung isasama ko sa mga isada nya.

  11. culprit pontiff Says...

    On May 21, 2011 at 5:57 am

    i fear of having piranha in an aquiarium..looking at the picture, it doesn’t seem to be a predator fish. no sharp teeth exposed. at least make it smile for it’s teeth to be shown for me to have fear putting my fingers into the water of your aquarium

  12. mtrguanlao Says...

    On May 26, 2011 at 4:59 am

    Haha,si idol talaga nakakatawa kahit kelan,iregalo pa ba sa misis nya yan,haha!
    Sis,I really find this very interesting! I’m fond of dangerous species,don’t know why,haha! But of course,am afraid of them,lol! Wanted to go to your place and see the piranha,haha! Learned many things here sis,kala ko lahat piranha e super wild as in attack ln ng attack just like in the movies.

  13. TwiKnight Says...

    On May 27, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Probably thought the idea of great whites now seem jaded to the general audience, movie makers decide to venture the more unconventional with their trademark exaggerative edge, such as piranhas, vampire cows, zombie penguins, and so on. Hence the general aversion toward said fish. :) Great article, mate. Hope the piranha works out for you and your other fishy companions.

  14. yes me Says...

    On May 28, 2011 at 6:41 am

    An interesting read that one cheers Phoenix

  15. Aileen Tecson Says...

    On June 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    excellent photo and it is interesting to know some have such kind of pet..

  16. Cassle Tang Says...

    On July 12, 2011 at 6:11 am

    That’s so cool! I never knew there is something like red bellied piranha which could be kept as a unique aquarium pet! Really want it in my home..

  17. scheng1 Says...

    On September 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    I think you can cook those Piranhas from the pond. They would taste nice.

  18. FX777222999 Says...

    On October 17, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Lovely aquarium fish.

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