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Main Index > Detailed Fish Profiles > The Tetras > Red-Bellied Piranha
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South America

 

piranha

Pygocentrus nattereri

 

Overview:
    This and other species of the genus Serrasalmus known as Piranhas are aggressive predators with extremely powerful teeth, although rare they have been shown to attack and overpower humans. Piranhas in nature act as the sanitary police as they attack and consume any weak or sick animal. Their aggressive instincts are stimulated by blood or open wounds and the accounts of animals being reduced to bones are basically true. If you would like to see some photos of Piranha breeders and fry Click Here.


Quick stats:

    Listed tank sizes are the minimum
    Size: Up to 12" (30cm)
    Tank: 48 inches
    Strata: Bottom-middle
    PH: 6.0 to 7.5
    Hardness: Soft to medium. dH range: 5-18
    Temperature: 75°F to 84°F (24-29°C)

Classification

    Order: Cypriniformes
    Suborder: Characoidei
    Family: Serrasalmidae
    Genera: Pygocentrus

Common name

    Red-Bellied Piranha


Image gallery:
    Additional species photographs

Discuss:

    Badmans' Forum

Distribution

    South America, Widely distributed throughout the Amazon and Orinoco river basins.


General Body Form
    Similar to the more common Silver Dollar, but more elongated. The body height is about one half the body length. Their predatory nature is reflected by their powerful teeth and fleshy lips. The Caudal fin is distinctly forked, the Adipose fin is lobed shaped and fringed and the Ventral fin is ragged like a saw. They get quite large and can reach up to thirteen inches in length.


Coloration
    The color can vary depending on location and age. The sides are pale Brown to slightly Olive. Some of the small scales can produce an intense Golden Yellow reflection. The body can have some variable dark markings across it in no particular pattern. The back is Blue- Gray to Brownish and the throat and belly areas are blood Red in healthy specimens. The Ventral, Pectoral and Anal fins are also bright Red. The Caudal and Dorsal fins are gray.


Maintenance
    Although they appear quite robust, they are not an easy specimen to keep. Even in a very large aquarium an acclimated fish can suddenly become aggressive. The tails of their own species and of larger fish will be bitten off, causing possible disease threats. They can be fed worms and young specimens will take other live food as well. Their water should be soft and Acidic, with a good amount of water movement in the tank. The temperature should be in the range of 75 to 80 °F. Due to their large size and specialized requirements I do not believe that they have been bred in the home Aquaria.


Breeding

    I found this on the net for free use:

    Piranhas are unique creatures that have gained popularity not just because of their appearance, but also due to the many myths that are told about them. Unfortunately only a few species of piranha have been bred, including Serrasalmus nattereri, S. spilopleura, S. gibbus, S. rhombeus. Another that is considered relatively easy to breed is S. maculatus.

    Whichever of these species you choose, you should have an aquarium of at least 100 gallons. A group of 5-6 piranhas is quite appropriate; however if you want them breeding it is best to keep a pair only, so that there are no other fish to bother them. To find a mating pair select two adult piranhas, one thick and the other thinner - in most cases thick piranhas represent females and thinner piranhas represent males. Just make sure you are not looking at them after they have been fed. Although having found a male and a female doesn't automatically mean success, it is a step on the way.

    The ideal temperature is between 73°-83°F. Standard fluorescent bulbs are fine for the lighting. Piranhas also like some protective cover, and you should also make the lighting of half of the aquarium darker than the other. Piranhas are hardy fish but it is a good idea to maintain the water clean and clear. In their original Amazon River habitat, the rainy season is when most fish spawn. Frequent and bigger water changes seem to have an immense effect on the success of breeding (as they simulate the rainy season) and are most helpful in getting the piranhas into breeding condition.

    When your piranhas lose all their colour and turn almost completely black, they are in breeding condition! Both of them may start to protect a certain spot; chasing off other piranhas that come too close. When they start picking up gravel in their mouths as if digging, it usually means they have already begun the mating process. Be careful not to disturb your piranhas during this time! The female will release eggs into the pit, and then leave the nest (but might stay close by it). The male is usually responsible for guarding the nest and eggs. The number of eggs laid varies from 700-4000. The eggs hatch in 2-3 days.

    If you are lucky enough to have reached this stage, then it's time to take care of the fry. Prepare a 10 to 15 gallon tank with heater and undergravel filter. Water should be from the parents' tank. Be very, very careful when transferring the fry, as the parents can be extremely protective and aggressive. The fry will quickly absorb their yolk sacs and you can start feeding them live baby brine shrimp as food.

    One thing you should be aware of is the legal issues. Some states do not allow the sell or ownership of piranhas at all. Other states require that you obtain a permit to sell or own a piranha. Be sure to check to see if any local restrictions apply before purchasing your piranhas.

    About The Author

    Article by William Berg writer for Aquatic Community with more then 20 years of aquarium experience. Find more of Williams articles about Piranhas or an article about completely different pet like Dogs

    Article may be reproduce as long as it is not edited and this resource box is included ďas is with live linksĒ on the bottom of the page.


    Piranha fry from Keith a site reader, He will be writing an article on their breeding, for now he has sent me some photos.
    Click Here to see more of Keiths' Piranha photos.

Your comments:

 

Please remember that the following comments are personal experiences and may or may not apply to your setup. Use them as guide to help better understand your fish, like us all individuals will behave differently under different circumstances.

 

From: Justin C.
Date:06/05/2012
I have 3 red bellies which are now 4 months old and measuring 6 inches, their diet consists of cockles mussels prawns and white fish, they also enjoy pleco pellets and small fishing pellets( think they love the crunch. I fed them 3 times a day for the first 2 months removing any uneaten food after a few hours(give them time because they are nervous eaters. I also feed them in the same area of the tank each feeding time, they now swim over the spot looking at me when they are hungry(who said u cant train fish :-). Now I only feed them once a day and they confidently eat everything within 2 minuets. So far I've had no problems with fin nipping they are all fin perfect. Tank set up is a minimal layer of black gravel, some bogwood bamboo and mangrove stumps, giving them just enough hiding places until they get confident. Would recommend to people who want to watch a beautiful fish feed properly, not in frenzies that you see on the web through bad owners that is not the true patterns of these fish.
From: Christopher H.
Date:9/8/2011
I have 46 red belly's. 6 adults 40 juveniles. The 40 are about 3-4 inches long and are about 3 months old, They are in a 72 gallon bow front. I raised them from fry it was very time consuming but not too difficult. I started feeding them baby brine shrimp until they were about the size of a dime. Since then they have eaten anything I put in there! Earthworms, convict chiclids (which live in their with them as well and have babies), raw chicken legs and breast, raw bloody liver, fish from the lakes around Washington like perch and blue gill and sun fish,blood worms, frozen mice, thrashers shark, & salmon, etc... I try to keep them fed like what they would eat in the wild as much as possible but every now and then I give them a variety of foods that they seem to enjoy! ( never hot dogs or processed meats! it will cause short life span). I find that having a school of 40 keeps them aggressive like in the amazon! they are piranhas so that's how they should be kept personably if you can maintain their tank and keep them from killing each other! I always keep them fed well! however no matter what I can't keep them from biting chunks out of each others' backs, that's just how they are! it grows right back! I use 2 penguin filters that cycle 200 gallons of water each so they have plenty of oxygen, playground sand for the bottom of the tank and drift wood with a few live plants and fake ones as well. Convict cichlids and other aggressive cichlids live with them and breed and the piranhas eat them occasionally but not really they seem to live in there just fine with them! the eat together and when the convicts are guarding their nests they keep the piranhas away its amazing! the convicts are half the size of the piranhas! The 6 adults are together in a 55 gallon im sorry to say getting a 125 next week but 4 of them are about 6 inches and 2 of them are 10-12 inches and they school with each other and never fight they eat the same as the juveniles but if you want a good show and entertainment the 40 juveniles are the coolest thing ever to watch eat. you can see my videos on you tube. thank you and enjoy raising your piranhas!
From: GIb
Date:8/18/2010
As a young child (long time ago) I started with 4 red bellies in a 3ft tank. Over time they grew and I found that they started nipping so removed two and kept two. Over the years I had fed them a mixture of pieces of fish, raw meat, worms and fruit. The last item may be a surprise but they will eat fruit, although not exclusively. One of the fish died about 4 years later but I never knew why (was not attacked by the other). The remaining fish however lived for a long time. In all I had him for 12 years before he died, presumably of old age. I read a lot of info on the forum and there is an impression that they are difficult to look after. This is not what I found, and I must have done something right for the fish to live for 12 years.
    My pointers would be
  1. Don't bother mixing them with other fish, they will eventually eat them all
  2. Don't put to many in a single tank, they take each other out, starting with the smallest and weakest.
  3. Two was a good number for me as they were equally matched in size. Although they occasionally fought it was not to the death.
  4. Feed regularly to stop fighting. My experience was every 2 days. And take the bits left over out after 5 mins.
  5. Good filtration is a must but they are far more hardy than people think.
Great fish to keep. Now I'm older am setting up my tank again, yep another couple Red Bellies will be in residence.
From: Raj
Date:10/23/2005
I have 3 large (8") piranhas. I keep them in a 49 gallon tank with an external filter with a capacity 1 and half times the size of the tank, this helps to keep toxic levels down. I have found a weekly water change of 20% keeps the nitrate levels at bay due to the fresh fish diet. The best light conditions is using high intensity lights with dark (black) gravel with a thin under bed layer of sand. Plants are best to be kept with their roots in peat as they seem to die before they can establish (probably as the piranhas nip them and cause the plant to loose nutrients). The best way to do a water change is to use a gravel siphon and then add the water using a powerful pump to pump the water in from a large bucket as this introduces it slowly, and makes it easy for me to get the right temp and for convenience. They are amazing creatures and I agree with people who say they have a bad reputation. I always feed them before I do anything in the tank, and this allows me to use my hands, they never go near them (unless they are fighting with each other and run into me). NEVER STARVE THEM, this just reduces their life span, I only ever starve them for 2days max, and that only after water changes to allow the filter to cope with the change. Feed on a daily basis, but with a good amount but not to over feed. I feed my 3 with 3 large prawns, one each. They eat every day and swim happily about all the time; when I put the food up to the tank the run into the glass in anticipation and excitement. I had 5 tetras in with them but the survival of the fittest meant that only one is left. I also had 6 albino tiger barbs that were all gone in 2 days, as well as 3 large silver sharks. I have one tetra leopard left from 5 which actually eats the end bits of the prawns right in front of the piranhas mouths, he has survived the longest out of the little fish, (I think itís the diet of fresh fish which helped him). Best way to control PH is with peat, just put a load in the filter and it will reduce it, when it reduces it too much the water will go brownie, when itís not working, the PH will rise of course. My 3 are near to 6 years old now, and they are strong as ever, even the one who has one eye, who funnily enough is the first in for feeding (when he sees it), but does hover leaning to the side with the eye. The one female is dominant and protects her food when she doesnít eat it rarely. The men just seem to enjoy investigating every thing that passes the tank and enters the tank (except my hand thankfully) All in all, treat them with respect and they seem to do the same. Raj..
****Edited by Badman****

From: George Sorrell
Date:05/07/2005
Yes A red belly can be bred at home. It is not easy however, I believe it may be one of the hardest fish to breed. You need to have at least 5 or 6 of them, and when you see two of them sticking together all the time, and one seems to be getting darker and darker (female RB turn almost pure black when ready to spawn) move them to a separate tank, I recommend at least 150 gallon as there will be many many born, not all will survive sadly. Also, the three I currently keep I have had for 3 months, bought 2 weeks after birth, are already more than 6 inches long, if you want to grow bigger piranhas faster, turn the heat in aquarium to around 84 degrees, and feed them beef heart 2-3 times a day, and always keep live feeders in with them (yes it is messy but worth it in my opinion) I noticed a huge difference in growth rate using these methods than from my first few who sadly when I went on vacation were not entrusted to a very good person :( But if you do as I do, you will need to do more water changes than usual and change filter media more often. Any questions I will be happy to clarify anything
From: Josh Diener
Date:11/09/2003
I have 4 Cariba in a 33g tank. My piranha's are all different sizes, my biggest being 4 inches. And my smallest is 2 1/2 inches. They get along well. I sometimes sit in front of my tank watching them for hours. I find that if you get some floating plants your piranha's will like swimming around more because the plants dim the light and they probably feel safer too. Most piranha's like tree root ornaments and live plants that are dark and have long wide leaves. I clean the tank with the piranha's in it, and I rearrange my tank with my hands. I have never had any trouble.

From: Bap
Date:9/21/2003
I started w/ 8 RB's the size of a dime in a 75g tank. One of them vanished within a week. The 7 left remained there till they reached a size of about 2in. I keep a constant supply of guppies in there. I feed the guppies flakes and pellets, which the RB's took most of the (shrimp)pellets. These RB's stayed mostly out of sight among the thick plant cover, I provided. In the 75g for only 4 months, These 7 RB's were than moved to a 125g tank. This 125g was already stocked with various other fish. Guppies,Firemouths,Red Fin Sharks,Plecos and goldfish. Red Fin and Firemouths were bigger, all were gone in less than a month, They now get night crawlers, minnows, fogs, crickets and golds to eat. They will not take any dry food or people food (tried once)until they get 6 to 7 days hungary. I don't feed anything other than as close to their natural food as I can find. After three days without food these RB's really get mean to each other. Their fins get messed up. Forgot to mention, after moving into the 125g tank one more of them is not present for head count within two days. No trace of a body. They have been very hardy with all the scraps in the tank. If too long between water changes they start to look more dark (black) in color. Making a water change about every 10 days keeps their colors bright and their attitudes more playful (with their food) New water is added very slow or they start to breath very heavy. Temp. I keep at 79 to 80F. PH I keep between 6.5 and 7.5. (50/50 mix of well and tap water)The higher range occurring if too long without water change. They have never been sick. The only problem is if they get spooked by a loud noise or someone moving too fast, too close to the tank. They are less jumpy as they grow bigger. After 2.5 years they are now 6 to 7in. They have grown at about the same rate since they were tiny. So has their appetite. There doesn't seem to be a peeking order overall. Yet when feeding the bigger ones start the party. During the day (when tank lights are on) they are very playful with their food, taunting but not often eating. In the dark I almost have to sit on the tank to keep then from jumping out. I do keep big rocks on the tops. The smallest one is 5 to 6in. I can not say for sure but this may be the only female of the six. This one keeps a more gold color than the others and is growing at a slower rate, but is keeping up in size to the others. Never more than an inch or two smaller. The other 5 are close in size. They each seem to have a place in the tank. Without cover they don't stop chasing each other. (Nipping fins) I have thick cover but as they grow I have reduced it. 1/3 to 1/2 of the tank bottom is planted with plastic plants. (They torn up the real plants chasing food)They don't like to be watched. If I stay on the other side of the room (15ft. away) they do eat while I watch. They don't get too frenzied because they have a steady supply of food. The six school together before eating at night. During the day they don't school until one of them is fighting a catch. They are sneaky, grabbing food while I look away only to settle slowly back to their spots when I look back. Unlike a pro-ball player they don't like to show off the power they seem to know they have. Most entertaining, active and smart specimens I've keep. Good luck to all who enjoy such a hobby.

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