Red-bellied Piranha

(Pygocentrus nattereri)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in tropical freshwater rivers in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Size: 12-16 inches long; up to 3 pounds

Wild Diet: Parts of injured or dead fish, insects, worms, mollusks, seeds, algae, and plants; occasionally small terrestrial animals

Predators: Caimans, large Amazon fish, pink dolphins, and fish-eating birds like egrets and storks

Reproduction: Red-bellied piranhas usually spawn during the rainy season (April-May). They court mates by swimming in circles. Females place eggs into a bowl-shaped nest in the sediment, dug by the male. Clusters of large eggs then attach to bottom vegetation.

Behavior: These piranhas forage and hunt in groups of about 20-30 individuals. During the day, they can be seen lurking then ambushing prey from the river’s edge. Their sharp, triangular teeth and powerful jaws allow them to bite with remarkable force.


IUCN Status: Not Evaluated

They are not currently considered threatened, but because of their popularity as an aquarium species, collection and trade may eventually pose a threat to the red-bellied piranha.

Did you know?

  • Red-bellied piranhas have a reputation as fearsome predators but rarely enter a “feeding frenzy” unless they are starving or provoked. They are far more likely to be eaten by a human than to pose any threat to a human.
  • They have been introduced to freshwater throughout the United States, probably after being released from aquariums.
  • Piranhas snack on each others' fins, which quickly grow back. This makes for a reliable source of protein.