Despite their fierce and ferocious reputation, the red bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) is actually quite a shy and docile species of fish. Far from the flesh-crazed demons that they’re depicted in film, books and TV, they’re a little timid and extremely beautiful.
With glittering scales and a striking underbelly, we think these fish are fascinating and fun, rather than dangerous and undesirable. Blue Planet Aquarium is home to a host of these brilliant creatures, so if you’re thinking of paying us (and the piranhas) a visit, why not brush up on your knowledge with our fun red bellied piranha fact file?
Red bellied piranha features and characteristics
As we’ve mentioned above, the red bellied piranha has a kind of glittery skin – silvery grey to black on the back and then a red belly (that’s where the name comes from). The way their scales glimmer and shimmer can make them hard to spot in the moving water, and they often just look like the sparkling flow around them. This is a great camouflage tool for the Red Bellied Piranha, immediately confusing predators.
Typically, an adult red bellied piranha will grow up to about 30-35cm in length on average but can reach as big as 50cm, and it’s possible to tell males and females apart as the girls tend to have a deeper red on their bellies.
Piranha also have great hearing too; they show hierarchies when in packs and will communicate to others when one finds food, so everyone gets a bite.
Speaking of biting, piranhas lose their teeth like humans do. However, unlike humans, piranha replace their teeth throughout their life, and do so by losing the entire row of teeth on one side of their head. They then replace it immediately so they can carry on eating that day if they want!
Red bellied piranhas love the freshwater of Neotropical rivers and are most commonly found in the South American nations, although since 1990, they have been considered an invasive species in China. They typically like warmer waters, around 25ºC, although they can survive much colder rivers for a short period of time.
What do red bellied piranhas eat?
This is probably the biggest misconception about most piranhas, they’re not super-frenzied predators which will devour the flesh of anything in their path. The red bellied piranha is a scavenger and a forager, and is also very omnivorous, happily chowing down on fruit and leaves if there’s no meat on the menu.
However, if injured, dead or dying animals do end up in the red bellied piranha’s waters, it’s only too happy to tuck in – enjoying a meaty diet of insects, molluscs, carrion, and other fish.
Another great myth about piranhas in general is they stay in packs to hunt for large prey. This is not the case, they are grouped together in a shoal for protection, making sure they don’t end up on the dinner table.
Where can you discover red bellied piranhas?
Outside of South America, it is very rare you will find any piranhas in the wild. Luckily, the Blue Planet Aquarium has brought a little slice of South America to the UK in our Flooded Forest exhibit.
Flooded Forest mimics the warmer climes of the Amazon River, and plays host to many of the indigenous species, including the red bellied piranhas. It’s a great way to view the fish in an environment as close to home as possible. Alongside the red bellied piranhas, there are a host of other South American fish, and also a boa constrictor!
Fun facts about Red Bellied Piranhas
- Red bellied piranhas tend to live in massive shoals, sometimes with hundreds of other fish! They’re absolutely not going to get lonely.
- Their bark can be worse than their bite. That’s right, red bellied piranhas have a bark, and they use it to ward off predators!
- Female red bellied piranhas can lay thousands of eggs in their lifetime! That’s a lot of babysitting.
- Red bellied piranhas are natural flirts – their courtship ritual starts with a bit of swimming around in circles. Romantic.
- The red bellied piranha can live for around 10 years.
So, that’s it for our guide to red bellied piranhas. If you’re keen to learn more, head on over to Blue Planet Aquarium for our Flooded Forest exhibit and all the other great stuff we’ve always got going on. For booking info and tickets, click here.
What do they eat?
Insects, fish, crustaceans, worms and plants
Where are we?