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Red Bellied Piranha

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Red Bellied Piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri

The Red Bellied Piranha originates from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America. Due to color variations and similar fish as far south as Argentina, this species is also known as the Gold Dust Piranha, the Ternetzi and the Yellow King Emperor Piranha.  It was formerly known by the scientific name Serrasalmus nattereri.  The Red Belly is the most common of all piranhas.  It has very powerful, sharp teeth that continually replace.  Although Red Bellies have a reputation for fierceness (started by a prank pulled on President Theodore Roosevelt while visiting Brazil), they are actually fairly timid, nervous and inactive, except when hungry.  They will play dead when frightened.  The distinctive feature is the red belly, highlighted against a silver/grey body.  They are very similar in appearance to the Red Pacu, which is not a piranha.  Piranhas grow very slowly.

When feeding, the Red Bellied Piranha is an aggressive meat eater that swarms on prey in large schools. They often nip fins and flesh without killing their prey.  If they are hungry, they will attack your fingers.  The tank should be about 100 gallons and should hold about 5 piranhas (2 gallons per inch of piranha).  The tank should have driftwood and dim lighting. Soft, acidic water preferred.  Live plants will likely be destroyed.  A strong filter is recommended.  The Red Bellied Piranha is strictly a meat eater. Care should be taken to ensure feeder fish are free of disease.  Placing meat products in the aquarium will be appreciated by the piranhas, but will quickly foul the water.

This species can be bred in captivity. Eggs are laid in plants in pits in the substrate. The male guards the eggs, which hatch in 2 3 days. Fry must be separated and fed live foods.  Juveniles have black spots and lack the distinctive red color on the belly.

The piranha is banned in more than 20 US states, due to concerns over the possibility that they will survive in the wild and threaten other living populations, including humans.  For more information, visit The Law and Piranhas by Frank Magallanes.

Red Bellied Piranha Juvenile, Pygocentrus nattereri
Juvenile Red Bellied
Scientific Name: Pygocentrus nattereri
Family: Characin
Temperature: 23 -27 C; 73 - 81 F
pH: 5.5 - 7.5
Size: 30 cm; 12 inches
Life Span: 8 years
Breeding: Difficult, Egglayer


Pygocentrus cariba, Pygocentrus piraya and other Red Bellied Piranha