The Red Belly Piranha is becoming quite favored by aquarists who wish to add this silver-grey fish with a bright reddish-orange belly and sparkling scales to their aquarium.

Experienced hobbyists who have spacious tanks enjoy the challenge of keeping this fish with a fierce reputation. In the aquarium, however, these fish can be quite timid.

The Red Belly Piranha needs good care. We have compiled this resource guide to save you hours of research. Read on to learn about water parameters, tank size, tank set up, and a balanced diet for this unusual pet.

Red Belly Piranha Stats

Family Serrasalmidae
Natural Habitat Latin America
Behavior Aggressive
Minimum Tank Size 40 gallons per each specimen
Diet Omnivore
Care Level Expert
pH 6.0 to 7.5
Hardness 4 to 18 dGH
Temperature 74 to 82 F

– Red Belly Piranha Habitat

Red Belly Piranhas inhabit freshwater rivers across South America. Piranhas live in loose schools of 20 to 30 in still and flowing waters with abundant foliage.

These fish are native to Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Red Bellied Piranha lives in large numbers in the Amazon River basin and the Parana, Paraguay, and Essequibo River basins.

You can also find this species in lakes, pools, and the coastal rivers of northeastern Brazil, as well as a great many small waterways like rivers, tributaries, and creeks. Red Belly Piranhas are omnivorous and feed on crustaceans, insects, fish, and worms.

– Red Belly Piranha Appearance

The Red Bellied Piranhas, scientific name Pygocentrus nattereri, get their name from their distinctive Red Belly, starting from the chin and throat and extending until the anal fin. These fish have beautiful coloring. Their back is shades of gray, while the rest of the body is covered with sparkling silvery-gold scales. The juvenile Red Piranha is silver with dark spots.

These fish are very fast swimmers as they have large, powerful tails and streamlined bodies covered with tiny scales. Between the tail and dorsal fin, Red Belly Piranhas have another small adipose fin: this is a characteristic of all characins.

While Red Belly Piranhas can be 12 inches or longer in their natural habitat, they generally grow 8 to 10 inches long in an aquarium. This species usually lives 10-15 years, so you need to be prepared to make a long commitment to their care.

– Red Belly Piranha Behaviour

The Red Belly Piranha’s behavior in the aquarium is quite unlike the common perception. They are timid and quiet and will hide amongst the decorations of your aquarium for the majority of their time. They are also quite nervous when people get close to the aquarium glass or are disturbed by hobbyists during cleaning or maintenance tasks.

However, it is true that, in their natural habitat, Red Bellied Piranhas are almost constantly hunting. These predators hunt in shoals of 30 or more fish, hiding until they attack their prey. If they smell blood, it sends them into a frenzy.

You should be very careful when handling these fish, as their razor-sharp teeth could be a source of serious injuries for their tank mates or even for unfortunate aquarists. Their activity level and aggression increase at feeding time, so it is necessary to be very attentive.

– Red Belly Piranha Unusual Features

Red Piranha has an acute sense of smell, which enables them to find their prey. These fish also have a line of special sensors down the sides of their bodies, known as the lateral line system.

Red Belly Piranha makes a drumming sound by contracting and relaxing the muscles around the swim bladder to produce noises of different frequencies.

Red Belly Piranha Care


Red Piranha Care needs to live in a tank with consistent water quality, as these fish are carnivores and very messy eaters. The water should be well-cycled at all times. In addition, add a powerful canister filter. As they chew their food, Red Bellied Piranhas scatter lots of meat particles into the water, leading to ammonia and nitrates’ spikes.

We suggest you install a quality filtration system to deal with the bioload and prevent the build-up of nitrates in the aquarium. You will also need to carry out a water change of 30 to 50 percent every other week.

However, Red Belly Piranhas are surprisingly shy. It would be best to keep the tank in a quiet spot since Piranhas can get anxious and distressed when too many people walk past the tank. When these fish are stressed, they may become aggressive.

This species lives in rivers in the rainforest with thick vegetation to protect the fish from direct sunlight. The waters are quite murky, so their eyes have adapted to low lighting. The Red Belly Piranha will be happiest and stay healthy if you place their tank in a quiet, dimly lit area away from lots of traffic.

Furthermore, direct sunlight or heat can result in bacteria multiplying rapidly, which can harm your Piranha’s health. Try to keep the temperature at 75 to 80 F. You shouldn’t put the tank in a place where there’s direct sunlight or close to radiators or heaters.

– Water Parameters

Red Belly Piranhas are very hardy fish that can tolerate a vast range of water conditions. To provide them with optimal water conditions, maintain the temperature of the tank water between 76 – 82 F and the pH levels between 6.0 and 7.5.

It is vital to clean the tank weekly for your Red Bellied Piranha’s health. We suggest replacing at least 10 – 20 percent of the water every week, or more bi-weekly (up to 50 percent). It would be best to clean the tank walls and gravel to prevent odor and bacteria that can cause the fish to fall ill.

Write out a weekly maintenance schedule so that you don’t forget. Remember, Red Belly Piranhas are messy, so you may need to clean the aquarium more often if you notice excess waste or odor. It won’t take more than ten minutes.

Try not to remove your Piranhas from the tank. Remember that Red Piranhas generally attack when they are frightened or hungry. Wear heavy gloves when cleaning the tank. If it is necessary to remove your Piranha from the water, use a bucket or large net.

– Red Belly Piranha Tank Size

Red Belly Piranha aquarium needs to be spacious. You can keep one single Piranha in a 40-gallons aquarium, but you’ll need to consider buying a very large tank for an entire group. These fish are skittish, and they will be less shy if you keep them in a group of four or more. They are happiest in an aquarium with lots of hiding places and plenty of space to swim around.

You can keep baby Red Bellied Piranhas in a small 20-gallons aquarium for a while, but adult fish will need at least 100 gallons or more, depending on how large the group is. These freshwater river fish from South America will thrive in a horizontal tank with a strong current.

If you keep Red Belly Piranha cramped in a small tank for a long time, it can stunt their growth. Moreover, the juveniles tend to be cannibalistic, so keeping them in a large tank is advisable to prevent them from attacking and eating their siblings.

– Red Belly Piranha Tank Setup

Red Belly Piranha aquarium should replicate their natural environment. You may want to create an Amazonian biotope aquarium using driftwood, bogwood or submerged wood root, and lush plants to provide cover and diffuse the lighting.

You must be careful not to use rocks or driftwood with sharp pointed edges or corners that could injure the fish. Sand would be a good substrate, but a thick layer of very fine gravel is good too. Leave plenty of open swimming areas. The aquarium should have a secure lid to prevent these fish from jumping out if they feel threatened or frightened.

Some fish enthusiasts keep their Piranhas in bare tanks for easier cleaning and maintenance. However, you can use a thin layer of smooth rocks and gravel to cover the bottom of the aquarium.

– How To Deal With the Bioload

Red Belly Piranhas eat large amounts of food and produce a great deal of waste, so that you will need a large filter with good mechanical and biological capability. Or you could install more than one oversized external filter. We suggest buying units with in-built heaters or a sturdy heater guard as these fish are large and active and can knock against equipment and damage it.

Alternatively, you could use Sump systems since you can house the heater inside them. If your tank capacity is less than 1,000 or 1,200 gallons, you should change 30 – 50 percent water every week.

Installing a powerhead to create current would be a good idea since Red Bellied Piranhas love to swim in currents. It is good for these fish, as exercise boosts their metabolism and increases their growth rate.

Red Piranhas dislike very bright light because it makes them feel exposed and unsafe since the water in their natural habitat is either murky or covered by overhanging plants. Light may also cause injury to their eyes, as Red Belly Piranhas do not have eyelids.

Red Belly Piranha Tank Mates

Red Belly Piranha tank mates can be challenging to choose. The Red Belly Piranha is a predator capable of attacking fishes of any size and can attack even its tank mates sooner or later.

Most Red Piranha hobbyists keep these fish in groups of three to ten in a species-only aquarium, as this seems to be the best way to keep Piranhas. Some possible tank mates may be semi-aggressive species like Large Cichlids, armored Catfish, Pacus, and Silver Dollars.

Possible Tank Mates for Red Belly Piranhas:

  • Red Belly Piranhas
  • Armored Catfish
  • Peaceful to semi-aggressive fish like large Barbs, many Catfish, or Cichlids
  • Danios, Guppies, and other small fish

Tank Mates to be avoided for Red Belly Piranhas:

  • Territorial and aggressive fish like certain Cichlids, Catfish,
  • Gouramis, Mollies, Angelfish, Platies, Rainbowfish, and other medium-sized fish

– Red Belly Piranha Gender Differences

Red Belly Piranhas do not have any visible differences between the sexes. A female may get rounder as she fills with eggs, while the color of the males intensifies before spawning.

Red Belly Piranha Breeding

Red Belly Piranha breeding is possible if your group of fish forms pairs. These fish become sexually mature when they are one year old. When it’s time to breed, the male will dig out a nest in the substrate using their mouth and caudal fin, and defend it against other males.

After the nest is ready, the male fish chases the female one towards it, and they start swimming in circles. When these fish are ready to spawn, their color darkens. The female fish lays several eggs that the male then fertilizes. If you have a spacious tank, you may see several pairs spawn simultaneously.

Spawning is an entire process that starts in the early morning and carries on for almost the entire day. The female lays 500 to 1500 eggs in an hour. Red Belly Piranha eggs are bright orange and about 2 mm big. The male Piranha chases the female away from the nest after she has laid the eggs.

The male Red Belly Piranha takes over the care of the eggs. He guards the eggs and fans them with his fins. The male covers the eggs with the substrate and waves the clutch with their fins to create a water flow. After three or four days, when the eggs hatch and the larvae appear, they are still attached to the yolk sac. They get nourishment from the yolk sac for four days.

– Red Belly Piranha Fry Care

The Red Belly Piranha fry starts to swim in a week. We suggest transferring the fry into smaller tanks with sponge filters. Give them chopped Artemia nauplii, baby brine shrimp, or micro worms three times a day. You will need to carry out 10 percent water changes daily.

The fry are cannibalistic and eat their siblings, so you will need to keep moving them in groups to larger tanks. Juvenile Red Belly Piranha grow very fast. 1-month-old Piranhas already look like small, shiny coins with a dark dot at the base of their tail fin.

When they reach two months of age, more dark spots appear all over their bodies. They look like the adult Red Bellied Piranha at three months as their bottom jaw becomes more prominent and their fins become colored.

Once the juveniles are three months old, adding meat, fish, and chopped shrimp to their diet is essential. When you introduce fresh or frozen food to the diet, monitoring the tank water quality is important as it can get fouled very quickly.

– Red Belly Piranha Diet

The Red Belly Piranha diet is omnivorous. They eat fish, crustaceans, insects, aquatic invertebrates, algae, and aquatic plants. Remember that they will also look at smaller mammals and birds that inadvertently get too close to the water as prey.

Red Belly Piranha will eat a wide variety of meaty food; however, they will not get proper nutrition and a balanced diet from these processed foods. Piranhas will eat live fish. However, captive-bred feeder fish are often kept in crowded aquariums in very poor water conditions.

Feeding live feeder fish can lead to disease, so it is recommended not to use them. If you wish to offer feeder fish to your Piranhas, it is essential to quarantine the feeder fish for two weeks before you feed it to your Red Belly Piranha to prevent any disease from spreading to your fish.

A good staple diet should include a variety of frozen, freeze-dried, and live foods like quality meaty frozen food, frozen silversides, chopped fish, prawns, mussels, krill, worms, insects, and crustaceans.

Offering the Right Amount of Food

You should vary the items you feed your Piranha. We suggest you check the size and width of your fish before deciding the quantity your fish should eat and the feeding frequency.

We suggest you begin by offering your fish small amounts of food every day or every other day. Continue to monitor the growth rate and overall weight and size of the fish.

You should feed Juvenile Red Bellied Piranhas twice a day and reduce the frequency as they mature and become adult fish.

It is not advisable to give Red Belly Piranhas animal meat such as chicken or beef heart because they contain too much fat and protein, which the fish cannot digest. Offer these fish a balanced diet.

Conclusion

The Red Belly Piranha is the most commonly available Piranha, and they make a beautiful display in the aquarium.

  • The Red Belly Piranha grows eight to ten inches long in an aquarium
  • These fish need to be kept in a large aquarium
  • This species usually lives 10 – 15 years
  • These fish have sparkling scales on the side of the body
  • Red Belly Piranha dislike bright light
  • This species are very fast swimmers
  • The female Red Belly Piranha lays her eggs in a nest
  • The male Red Belly Piranha takes care of the eggs
  • These fish are very easy to feed
  • Juvenile Red Belly Piranha are cannibalistic

If you are looking for an uncommon fish that will challenge your fishkeeping skills, you couldn’t find a better option than the Red Belly Piranha to add to your aquarium.

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