name = Piranha

image_width = 250px
image_caption =
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Actinopterygii
ordo = Characiformes
familia = Serrasalmidae
familia_authority = Géry, 1972
subdivision_ranks = Genera
subdivision = "Catoprion"

A piranha or piraña (pronEng|pɨˈrɑːnjə/, /pɨˈrænjə/, /pɨˈrɑːnə, or IPA|/pɨˈrænə/) is a member of a family of omnivorous [cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6259946.stm |title=Piranha 'less deadly than feared' |accessdate=2007-07-02 |author=BBC News Online |date=2007-07-02] freshwater fish which live in South American rivers. In Venezuelan rivers they are called caribes. They are known for their sharp teeth and an aggressive appetite for meat


The name "piranha" may come from a hybrid language composed of Tupi-Guarani languages;Clarifyme|date=March 2008 it may be a compound word made of the components "pirá", meaning 'fish', and "sanha" or "ranha", meaning 'tooth'. In Tupi, inalienably possessed nouns take the prefix "t-", "s-", or "r-" depending on the possessor, or zero in combination; thus "pirá" + "anha". Alternatively, it may come from Tupi "pirá" (fish) and "ánha" (devil).Fact|date=July 2007


Piranhas belong to the family of Serrasalmidae which also includes closely related herbivorous fish including pacus).cite journal|url=http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/2007f/zt01484p038.pdf|title=Molecular systematics of Serrasalmidae: Deciphering the identities of piranha species and unraveling their evolutionary histories|first=Barbie|last=Freeman|coauthors=Nico, Leo G.; Osentoski, Matthew; Jelks, Howard L.; Collins, Timothy M.|journal=Zootaxa|volume=1484|pages=1-38|year=2007|format=PDF] Traditionally, only the four genera "Pristobrycon", "Pygocentrus", "Pygopristis", and "Serrasalmus" are considered to be true piranhas, due to their specialized teeth. However, a recent analysis showed that, if the piranha group is to be monophyletic, it should be restricted to "Serrasalmus", "Pygocentrus", and part of "Pristobrycon", or expanded to include these taxa plus "Pygopristis", "Catoprion", and "Pristobrycon striolatus". "Pygopristis" was found to be more closely related to "Catoprion" than the other three piranha genera.

The total number of piranha species is not known and new species continue to be described. In 1988, it was stated that fewer than a half of the approximately 60 nominal species of piranhas at the time were valid. More recently in 2003, one author recognized a total of 38 or 39 species, although the validity of some taxa remains questionable.


Piranhas are found only in the Amazon basin, in the Orinoco, in rivers of the Guyanas, in the Paraguay-Paraná, and in the São Francisco River systems; some species of piranha have extremely broad geographic ranges, occurring in more than one of the major basins mentioned above, whereas others appear to have much more limited distributions.

However, piranha (inevitably former aquarium-dwellers) have been introduced into parts of the United States, even being occasionally found in the Potomac River, but they typically do not survive the cold winters of that region. [Fahrenthold, David A.: [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/28/AR2005052801079_pf.html In River of Many Aliens, Snakehead Looms as Threat] , The Washington Post, May 29, 2005.] Recently a piranha was caught by a fisherman in the Catawba River in North Carolina. [The Associated Press [http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2007-07-04-piranha_N.htm Piranha caught in N.C. river] USA Today, 2007-07-04] This is the first known case in North Carolina and possibly in the region. [WNCN-TV [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19585612 Fisherman Catches Piranha In N.C. River] MSNBC, nbc17.com] Piranha have also been discovered in the Kaptai Lake in South-East Bangladesh. Research is being carried out to establish how piranha have moved to such distant corners of the world from their original habitat. It is anticipated that rogue exotic fish traders have released them in the lake to avoid being caught by anti-poaching forces. [ [http://www.prothom-alo.com/mcat.news.details.php?nid=Nzg3MTA=&mid=Ng= Prothom-alo] ]


Piranhas are normally about 15 to 25 cm long (6 to 10 inches), although reportedly individuals have been found up to 43 cm (18.0 inches) in length. [ [http://www.pueblozoo.org/archives/sep01/feature.htm Pueblo Zoo Grant's Zebra ] ]

"Serrasalmus", "Pristobrycon", "Pygocentrus", and "Pygopristis" are most easily recognized by their unique dentition. All piranhas have a single row of sharp teeth in both jaws; the teeth are tightly packed and interlocking (via small cusps) and used for rapid puncture and shearing. Individual teeth are typically broadly triangular, pointed, and blade-like (flat in profile). There is minor variation in the number of cusps; in most species the teeth are tricuspid with a larger middle cusp that makes the individual teeth appear markedly triangular. The exception is "Pygopristis", which has pentacuspid teeth and a middle cusp that is usually only slightly larger than the other cusps. In the scale-eating "Catoprion", the shape of their teeth is markedly different and the premaxillary teeth are in two rows, as in most other serrasalmines.


Ecologically, piranhas are important components of their native environments. Although largely restricted to lowland drainages, these fishes are widespread and inhabit diverse habitats within both lotic and lentic environments. Some piranha species are abundant locally and multiple species often occur together. As both predators and scavengers, piranhas influence the local distribution and composition of fish assemblages. Certain piranha species consume large quantities of seeds, but unlike the related "Colossoma" and "Piaractus", herbivorous piranhas thoroughly masticate and destroy all seeds eaten and consequently do not function as dispersers.

The piranha is renownedly portrayed and known as a vicious species of fish hunting in large schools. This conception was created from the past belief that piranhas created schools for hunting purposes. Recent research, however, suggests that this is actually used as a defense mechanism against the piranha's natural predators, such as river dolphins, caimans and gigantic arapaima. [cite web |url=http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070701/sc_nm/piranhas_dc |title=Vicious Piranhas are really wimps |accessdate=2007-07-05 |author=Yahoo News Online]

Research on the species "Serrasalmus aff. brandtii" and "Pygocentrus nattereri" in Viana Lake, which is formed during the wet season when the Rio Pindare (a tributary of the Rio Mearim) floods, has shown that these species eat vegetable matter at some stages in their life; they are not strictly carnivorous fish. [ [http://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/pfk/pages/item.php?news=695 Piranhas not strictly carnivorous, says study] ]

Relationship to humans

Locals often use piranha teeth to make tools and weapons. Piranha are also a popular food, though if an individual is caught on a hook or line it may be attacked by other piranhas.

Piranha are commonly consumed by subsistence fishermen and often sold for food in local markets. In recent decades, dried specimens have been marketed as tourist souvenirs. Piranhas occasionally bite and sometimes injure bathers and swimmers, but truly serious attacks are rare and the threat to humans has been largely exaggerated. A piranha bite is sometimes considered more an act of carelessness than that of misfortune.Clarifyme|date=September 2008 But piranhas are a considerable nuisance to commercial and sport fishers because they steal bait, mutilate catch, damage nets and other gear, and may bite when handled.

Several piranha species appear in the aquarium trade. Piranhas can be bought as pets in some areas, but they are illegal in much of the United States. "States prohibiting the sale and ownership of piranha include Alaska, California, Hawaii, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, and Maine" [http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art51954.asp]

The most common aquarium piranha is the "Pygocentrus nattereri", or the red-bellied piranha. Piranhas can be bought fully grown or as babies, often no larger than a thumbnail. It is important to keep "Pygocentrus" piranhas alone or in groups of three or more, not in pairs, since aggression among them is common and is distributed more widely when kept in larger groups, not allowing the weaker fish to survive. When kept in groups, it is recommended that they be in even-numbered groups, as piranhas will gang up on an odd member.Fact|date=July 2008 It is not rare to find individuals with one eye missing due to a previous attack. If underfed, piranhas are likely to become cannibalistic on others in their group.


External links

* Eric J. Lyman: [http://www.ericjlyman.com/piranha.html Piranha meat could take a bite out of what ails you] , Houston Chronicle, July 17, 1998
* [http://www.piranhaportal.net PiranhaPortal.Net] (in Italian)http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art51954.asp

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