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Piranhas: Can You Keep Them As Pets?

The name piranha means tooth fish which is apt as the fish has sharp triangular, razor-like teeth that work like scissors when cutting their food. 

Piranhas are predatory fishes often described as shy, timid and somewhat nervous creatures. They are highly sensitive to the sight of blood and splashing in water, both of which will trigger them to attack the source of the troubled waters.

They travel as a group to protect themselves from other predators and will devour prey as they attack. Piranhas grow from 5 to 24 inches long and sometimes even longer.

Although piranhas are super-aggressive, they practice respect toward one another when they attack. They’ll have a bite and then let others have their turn and feast away.

Where To Find Piranhas

Piranhas can be found today in the Brazilian Amazon, the freshwaters of Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela, and the Parana River of Argentina. There are approximately 30 species of piranhas that can be seen in these waterways. 

If you hear reports of piranhas in places other than the above-mentioned rivers such as the waterways of Bangladesh, China, Germany, the US or the United Kingdom, chances are those are just discarded pets that former owners tired of. Don’t rush into keeping piranhas and add to the problem!

Piranhas thrive in warm waters and won’t be able to survive anywhere with harsh winters.

Piranha Diet

Piranhas natural diet consists of carrion, crustaceans, fish, insects, nuts, plants, seeds, snails, and worms. 

They occasionally eat small animals and even humans but only if dead or dying. They won’t devour this whole unless they haven’t had a meal in days which is highly unlikely.

These species mainly focus on biting bits of the hands or feet from a corpse. Some species are vegetarians and feed mainly on seeds and plants.

A pet piranha on the other hand, shouldn’t be fed with animal meat as they might not be able to metabolize this. Over time, it can lead to heart disease. 

Also, avoid buying adult piranhas if you want other fish in the tank. These feeder fish will only be eaten alive, especially when the piranhas become hungry. 

Piranhas will also eat one other if they are left without food. 

Pet piranhas in an aquarium can be fed with pellets. 

Places Where Keeping Pet Piranhas is Legal

Keeping piranhas in a tank is legal in some states in the USA including:

  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Contrary to popular belief, piranhas normally do not attack live animals and humans. There is a well-known story about piranhas that connects with Theodore Roosevelt so a quick aside as we debunk a common myth about piranhas…

Debunking a Popular Piranha Myth

There’s a story about piranhas and American president Theodore Roosevelt from way back in 1913…

According to a report, the president visited South America where he was treated with a show of hungry piranhas devouring a whole cow.

It’s claimed that the whole spectacle was planned. Locals captured a shoal of piranhas before his visit and starved the fish for days. When the appointed time came, they released the piranhas and threw a dead cow into the river. The cow was stripped to the bone much to the audience’s shock. 

As a result, Roosevelt wrote a book titled Through the Brazilian Wilderness featuring such unusual experiences. 

There have been other reports about piranhas attacking a boy in Brazil and killing him after tearing his forearm. A girl who drowned and was believed to be dead prior to piranha attacks on her legs is another shocking occasion of piranhas feasting on a corpse.

In China, there was a reported piranha attack with the fish apparently biting a local Chinese man’s hand as he washed his dog in a river. 

Piranhas as Food

While piranhas rule over other fish in freshwaters, they are also a favorite snack for caimans, crocodiles, egrets, river dolphins, storks, and turtles.

Some people also catch piranhas for meals in the Peruvian Amazon. The red-bellied piranha is the most commonly eaten and it is said to taste very pungent and fishy. It’s best grilled and served with vegetables.

Popular Piranha Species

As of the latest study, there are roughly 40 discovered piranha species across 12 different scientific groups. 

But what are the most popular species?

We’ll round out today with 4 of the better-known piranhas…

1) Red-bellied Piranha

Scientifically known as Pygocentrus natterei, the red-bellied piranha is one of the most popular choices as an aquarium fish. 

This piranha is affordable and easy to maintain but is also considered the most hostile. Red-bellied piranhas possess the sharpest teeth and strongest jaws. 

This type can grow up to 20 inches long. They prefer prey sized roughly the same as them.

2) Black Piranhas

Like the red-bellied, this piranha species (Serrasalmus rhombeus) is also very aggressive and dangerous towards humans. 

Black piranhas are mainly carnivores and their bites can cause serious injury that can be fatal. This species of piranhas grows up to 13 inches long.

A back piranha loves to have the aquarium all to itself and will likely eat any other fish, especially smaller ones, if presented with the opportunity. 

3) San Francisco Piranhas

Scientifically known as Pygocentrus piraya, these species are found mainly in the San Francisco River in Brazil. They are omnivores but considered dangerous to humans. 

They have pale yellow and crimson red body colors which give them a flaming appearance. These species are not bred in captivity and are often imported from South America which makes them expensive.

4) Vegetarian Piranhas

The red-bellied Pacus or Tambaqui fish is a relative of piranhas with human-like teeth that are used for crushing seeds and nuts. These are also bought as pets.

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Closing Words

We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s romp through the world of piranhas! You should also see that it is possible to keep these fish in a home aquarium if you feel like something a little different.

Before you head off, bookmark Pet Gear Zone for all your pet-related needs and come back soon!

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