Red-bellied Piranha Pygocentrus nattereri

Red-bellied Piranha( Pygocentrus nattereri) or red piranha is a species of most carnivorous piranhas. It is widespread and numerous throughout its range in South America. A robust and powerful species, feeding voraciously upon fish flash and whole fish, this best-known, wide-ranging piranha is the most frequently imported species and one of the few that can be safely kept in groups. It is also the species most frequently bred in captivity. Young are heavily spotted with black. The red underside begins to develop at a very early age with black spots being replaced with gold and silver.1 They grow to a maximum length of 33 centimetres (13 in). The way to distinguish males from females is that the female has a slightly deeper color of red on her belly.3

Red-bellied Piranha Pygocentrus nattereri
Red-bellied Piranha Pygocentrus nattereri

Photo by Larysa Johnston

Red-bellied Piranha is a predator that hunts in schools, a habit that has given piranhas a fearsome reputation. A school of frenzied red-bellied piranhas can skeletonize a bleeding bull in a matter of minutes.2 Smaller fish forage throughout the day and the larger fish search for food at dawn, dusk and early evening. They employ ambush predation, chasing down prey and scavengin dead organisms. Even reptiles have been found in their guts. In captivity they are shy and spooked, which requires plenty of cover. Red-bellied piranhas spawn during the rainy season. Both parents guard the brood after hatching.2 Red-bellied piranhas can harbor flatworm (Cleidodiscus) and roundworm parasites (Camallanidae).3


  1. Piranhas: Everything about Selection, Care, Nutrition, Diseases, Breeding, and Behavior. David M. Schleser
  2. Wild: 75 Freshwater Tropical Fish of the World. Flick Ford
  3. EOL. Pygocentrus nattereri

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