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Are Piranha Dangerous Fish?

Updated on December 5, 2010

Piranha are really very shy

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Red Bellied Pirnaha:  Adult          photo by forum. waterwolves.comEither a Piranha snarling, or Esther Rantsen smiling!    photo by comment warning networks.comA Caiman eating a Red Piranha    photo be
Red Bellied Pirnaha:  Adult          photo by forum.
Red Bellied Pirnaha: Adult photo by forum.
Either a Piranha snarling, or Esther Rantsen smiling!    photo by comment warning
Either a Piranha snarling, or Esther Rantsen smiling! photo by comment warning
A Caiman eating a Red Piranha    photo be
A Caiman eating a Red Piranha photo be

Humans are not on their menu


The name of no other fresh water creature, excepting perhaps the anaconda, strikes more dread into the explorers of the Amazon and its tributaries than the piranha, or pirana, (pronounced peerhanya). Like most other predators which Hollywood has featured, its reputation is not at all deserved.

Piranhas, like sharks, poisonous snakes, some spiders and scorpions and the rest can be dangerous, but 99.9% of the time, they just aren’t, mainly because “man-meat” is not their natural diet, and in some cases there exists definite proof they even find ithe flavour of human flesh repulsive.

In the case of the piranha, actually a very shy and nervous fellow, it sees anything as large as a human as a danger to itself, like the larger fish, caimans, fresh-water dolphins, and wading birds that do feed on them. Humans have received serious injuries from the bite of the larger piranhas, but there is not one recorded fatality. Not one Homo sapiens has been stripped to its skeleton by a host of blood-crazed little fishes unless it was dead already - although they would be easily capable of doing so.

In fact, it is very unlikely piranha would attack the corpse of a man either. They like their meat alive and struggling, preferably, or fresh and bloody, like a duck shot and falling into their waters. Their diet is a varied one, taking all kinds of insects and arachnids, lizards, frogs, birds, small mammals, in fact, anything they can handle that falls into the water and commences to struggle. They also prey on other fish, many other species bear scars where a piranha has snipped off a lump of flesh, and are cannibalistic: piranhas keep a very wary eye on one another!.

There are more than 50 species of piranha, only four of which are considered dangerous to man in certain circumstances, and many of these species are herbivorous. The only dangers would be in the dry season when pools and streams dry-up trapping them without food, or when they are in a feeding-frenzy consuming their natural food and an errant human puts his toes or hands in the water. It only takes one slashing bite from their large, shark-like teeth to receive a very nasty wound and the loss of about an ounce of flesh. In fact, many of the bites received from piranha were upon fishermen who handled a large one too casually. The fish, are a favourite for the pot in the Amazon region, and its razor sharp teeth have been used as tools and weapon-tips for centuries.

The piranha mainly gained its reputation - which has stuck - from a book written by President Roosevelt after a trip to the Amazon region of Brazil, called “Through the Brazilian Wilderness.” In fact, the story of how the piranhas featured in the Roosevelt book may have as much fantasy attached to it as does the undeserved reputation of the protagonists. So the yarn goes, Brazilian natives, hearing of Roosevelt’s fascination and preconceived image of the “killer” fish, herded many thousands of them into a land-locked lake where they milled around in a starving condition. They then threw cut-up joints from several cattle into the water. While the American watched in fascinated horror, the pirana did, indeed, strip the carcasses down to the bones in record time, causing Roosevelt to devote several paragraphs to them in his book. I would like to copy it here, but I would probably get a duplicate stamp. You can find it on Google.

Several movies have used the piranha in a bloodthirsty manner, primarily the Bond nonsense, “You Only Live Twice,” in which the nasty Blofeld feeds the hapless Helga to the piranha.

Thanks to them being released into rivers and lakes by disenchanted pet owners or exotic fish dealers trying to avoid prosecution, piranha have appeared in many parts of the world. One even showed up in a river in Devon in the UK! Must have scared the beejaysus out of the chap that caught it when the “bream” he thought he had hooked showed teeth like Esther Rantzen’s at him. The alarm over the dangers to local wildlife in many countries, especially North America, have seen the sale of piranhas banned in most states, specifically the Red. Or Red-Bellied Piranhas. They can only be kept singly, really, as many problems arise from multiples of the aggressive fish in a small tank. Plus the fact that the cute little three-inch-long “Clown-fishey” wiv teeth” that the kind pet shop dealer sold you is now 10-inches long and just bit the tail off the cat. (They have been found up to 18 inches long).

Piranhas have now, of course, caught the fancy of tourists, who should know better then to buy the poor, dried specimens to adorn their mantelpieces. I hope the word does get around the piranha and they start adding idiotic, tittering tourists to their diet as Roosevelt would have had us believe. But nothing so far tastes worse to a discerning piranha…




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    • profile image

      donut_fiend 5 years ago

      There are actually a couple of documented fatalies now (one in 2011 and one in 2012), but considering all the hype, that still ranks the probability of a fatal piranha attack pretty darn low.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      They are peaceful, harmless fish (to man) made into monsters by Hollywood...Bob

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 7 years ago

      Woah, had no idea there was actually any real history behind the piranha.

      I saw Piranhas, in the Atlantas Resort in the U.A.E. however, funnily enough, at the time I did not know they were piranhas so out of all the odd and strange creatures there, piranhas looked really dull fish, it was only after I came out that I noticed I had the map and a catalog in hand which enlisted all the names of the fishes.

      I think Piranhas created even more fear after the recent film which happens to be self titled came out.

      I have happily avoided watching it because I assume it is going to be a complete gore fest.

    • profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago

      Welll..if you are really tender and tasty...?? Bob

    • profile image

      catt 7 years ago

      cool i always thought piranhas would eat me like how i eat a steak(i a fast eater)

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      In several of my hubs about "dangerous" creatures I ask the same question, "Why would you want one of these?" (venomous snakes, Death Stalker scorpions, 15-foot pythons, etc.). The main culprits are the dealers which supply them and the law needs severely ammending everywhere to prevent this....Thanks for comments...Bob

    • drperetz profile image

      drperetz 7 years ago

      I agree. Piranhas are more scared of you then you can feel. It might look like a mean and dangerous fish but fortunately its safe. Not sure why you wald want to have peranas in the first place, just my 2 cents. Best investment is either a planted fresh water aquarium any size, or a reef tank....

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi finatice: So much nonsense talked about dangerous wildlife. Piranas are eaten by, not eaters of (of man). In most cases, the only people bitten or taken by wild animals have been begging for it, in one way or another. Yet we hear of one attack and the whole world goes on red alert about some poor species. Thanks for comment...Bob

    • finatics profile image

      finatics 7 years ago

      Love this hub! It's great that people are helping dispel some of the myths surrrounding piranhas. The new movie 'Piranha' probably isn't helping with informing the public about the truth with piranhas. I also read that people of the forests bathe and swim in the rivers that are inhabited by piranhas without harm.

    • angela46725 profile image

      angela46725 8 years ago from Northern Indiana

      My piranha is sick. I'v looked all over the internet and can't find his symptoms. He is lethargic and about 25% of his scales have turned gray,he won't eat either. If you have any advice I would greatly appreciate it.

    • profile image

      diogenes 8 years ago

      Dear HH: Thank you for your interest and kind comment...Happy Christmas...Bob

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for lots of information. I thorouhgly enjoyed it.