Description:The infamous piranha has developed an undeserved reputation for aggression and violence. Measuring up to ten inches in length, the Piranha is a grayish or blackish fish with single rows of sharp, jagged interlocking teeth on the lower and upper jaw. Some species have orange or red bellies. Piranhas have laterally compressed bodies with small scales and a powerful tail. These characteristics enable it to move swiftly and with agility through the water. There are thought to be about 40 different species of piranha, but this number changes periodically. Piranhas are sometimes raised in captivity and kept as pets, which is probably why they have been reported in North Carolina as well as in the Potomac River in Virginia on occasion. These fish , however, cannot survive the cold winters north of the tropics. Despite its ferocious reputation of congregating in schools to devour prey, recent research has suggested congregations are a defense mechanism against river dolphins and other predators. Piranhas often lose teeth during feeding frenzies, which regenerate.
Diet: While piranhas are primarily scavengers, these diurnal fish also eat fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, birds, lizards, amphibians, and rodents. Piranhas will also eat members of their species. Some species are herbivorous and consume large amounts of seeds. Research has shown that piranhas will congregate under aquatic trees where herons and egrets nest, hoping that an unlucky baby bird will fall into the water.
Habitat/Range: The Piranha is common through the Amazon river systems of northern and central South America.
Breeding: The breeding habits of the Piranha in the wild are poorly known as most of their reproductive information has been gathered in observations of these fish in captivity. During the reproductive period, males and females turn dark in color and will begin building a “nest” at the floor of the river. During this time, all other fish are chased away. The female will then lay clusters of eggs which will be fertilized by the male, who defends them vigorously from predators. The eggs hatch in two to three days. Young piranhas grow slowly and reach reproductive age at about 18 to 24 months.
Status: Most piranha species are common. Although populations are stable, they are heavily dished in some locales.