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Black Piranha - Displaying a Predator in the Home Aquarium

Updated on September 21, 2014

The scientific name for the Black Piranha is Serrasalmus rhombeus and there are various other common names including White Piranha, Diamond Piranha, Peruvian Black Piranha, Brazilian Black Piranha, Rhombeus Piranha, Black Diamond Piranha, Xingu Piranha, and High-back Piranha. Black piranhas are also frequently referred to as a "Rhom" which is a shortened version of their scientific name. The Black Piranha occurs over a wide range in South America and due to the fact that there are many different species of piranhas in South America there is often confusion regarding what actually is a "true" Black Piranha. Regardless, Black Piranhas for the home aquarium are all wild caught specimens as there are no documented successes of consistent captive breeding adult Black Piranhas.

In the constraints of an aquarium a Black Piranha will not tolerate any other fish in its tank, including other Black Piranhas. Even fish much larger than a given Black Piranha are nipped, bitten, and injured over and over until they eventually succumb to their injuries. I have seen Black Piranha specimens over 14" in length maintained with various small tetras in public aquarium settings, but it can only be assumed that the specimen is well fed and is so large that it does not consider the small tetras as food. From my experiences it would be an unwise and a costly investment to attempt to maintain any other species with a Black Piranha in the home aquarium.

Black Piranhas have a notoriously slow growth rate so smaller specimens can be maintained in smaller aquariums but one must not impulsively buy a juvenile specimen without knowing that they will have a large display tank to house the fish as an adult. Black Piranhas can attain a length of 18" in the home aquarium and some specimens in the wild have been known to exceed 20". With this in mind an adult Black Piranha will require an aquarium of 180 gallons (6' x 2' x 2') to be comfortable. Length and width of the aquarium are especially important for an adult specimen as it must have area to navigate and be able to adequately turn around in the tank.

Ideal housing conditions would be a Ph range of 5.5 to 7.5 and temperature from 74 – 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Filters with high capacities and flow rates such as power filters, canister filters, and wet/dry systems should be incorporated as Black Piranhas are messy eaters and produce significant amounts of waste. Juvenile specimens are often shy and appreciate dimmed lighting as well as driftwood and live plants as hiding areas. Sub-adults and adult specimens are bolder and are usually comfortable with a single hiding spot, and by this point live plants are usually harmed by the powerful swimming activities of larger specimens. Juvenile specimens can be fed items such as blood worms, meal worms, enriched brine shrimp, mysis shrimp and beef-heart. Sub-adult and adult specimens can be items such as krill, market shrimp, cut fish fillets, crayfish, and earthworms.

The Black Piranha is often considered the most aggressive piranha and it is not commonly available in aquarium shops. Red Bellied Piranhas often captivate buyers at local fish stores due to their availability and perceived high level of aggression, but the reality is that two species have differing captive care requirements. Black Piranhas are far more aggressive and require their own tank whereas Red Bellied Piranhas can often be maintained in small shoals. Due to the fact that a Black Piranha must be kept alone in its own aquarium they are ideal for a large center piece display tank. If you or your family are looking to display a large tank with a lot of activity, then the Black Piranha may not be for you. But, if you have multiple aquariums or know that you can responsibly house and devote a tank to a Black Piranha it will definitely be a conversation starter to show anyone who visits your house an underwater "top of the food chain" predator.

The flanks of many Black Piranhas appear as if they were rubbed with glitter, hence the nickname "Diamond Piranha".
The flanks of many Black Piranhas appear as if they were rubbed with glitter, hence the nickname "Diamond Piranha".

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