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Sea Life, Animals
& Exhibits

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Red-bellied Piranha

(Pygocentrus nattereri)

The name piranha comes from the South American native language Tupi-guarani and means “cuts the skin.” It is illegal to keep piranhas in 21 states of the United States. Three or more species of piranhas are usually found in the same area.


Red-bellied piranhas live in the warm fresh water regions of South America.


The Red-bellied piranha has perhaps the worst reputation of any freshwater fish.  Though they are omnivorous (eating both animals and plants), their razor-sharp teeth are capable of easily stripping flesh from prey, living or dead. Piranha feed mostly on fish, birds, reptiles, rodents and small mammals.


Female piranhas lay several thousand eggs near water plants. The eggs stick to the plants and the male swims by to fertilize them. In two to three days, the eggs hatch and the young piranhas stay on the bottom where they can hide among the plants until they are large enough to defend themselves.


Large, predatory Amazon fish prey on piranha as does  the pink dolphin of the Amazon. Predatory, fish-eating birds such as egrets and storks are also fond of eating piranhas.