a juvenile red bellied

Do Piranhas Eat Their Young?

Piranhas in the wild have a varied diet, which one should try and replicate if you own them at home. They are known to have a tendency towards cannibalism in certain circumstances?

So, do Piranhas eat their young? In short, yes, the aggressive Piranha species will eat their young. Although, not the preferred meal, they will turn on young Piranha during times of food scarcity which happens during the dry season. During the wet season there are plentiful insects, worms and fruits. With the arrival of the dry season, the water recedes and Piranha get hungry, which is when they can turn on juveniles. In an aquarium, add Piranha of a similar age to the tank and keep them well fed to decrease the likelihood of your bought Piranha becoming fish food.

Fish Are Part Of The Piranhas Diet

While the Piranha is considered a carnivore, it actually isn’t. It’s classified as an omnivore which means it has a balanced diet of meat, fruits and vegetables. The Red-Bellied Piranha is a forager and scavenger, and while foraging and consuming insects, worms, snails and fish fins and scales.

Not all Piranha are omnivorous, some are explicitly herbivores but the famous Red-Bellied Piranha, a favorite amongst Piranha keepers is notoriously aggressive in certain circumstances, typically in the dry season when there is food scarcity.

During the dry season there is a higher inclination towards eating other fish. Fruits and vegetables die away as the water recedes and the aggressive Piranha will increase the diet of fish to compensate.

a juvenile red bellied

Basically, Are Piranhas Cannibals?

Juvenile Piranha, during the growth phase will consume a lot of food, providing sustenance to enable growth. Initially they might consume more plant matter, especially as they are born into foliage.

As they get bigger they will feast on more foraged foods, like seeds and tiny crustaceans as  well as worms and insects.

At some stage, around 2 inches in length, their teeth have developed and they have the ability to ‘fin nip’ and take bites out of other fish. They will also start to form schools and go out roaming. The adult Piranha will then be in a position where they may take another Piranha as a meal, especially a young one.

During the dry season food is scarce and young Piranha can be born into this environment. As there is an abundance of fish and diminishing food, in the form of fruits and seeds, young Piranha can find themselves a snack for adult Piranha growing increasingly hungry.

Aquarium Piranha owners also report that the adult fish will occasionally eat one of the younger fish. While it can be from stressed fish, or a fight for dominance.

Ideally, when setting up the tank, your Piranha should be placed in the tankl from the same school and similar ages to prevent this from happening.

2 piranha swimming


Despite the fact that Piranha, especially the Red-Bellied Piranha have a tendency to eat the young, as a paradox they are exceptionally aggressive when defending a breeding nest. Occasionally a wading bather in Latin America discovers this.

Piranha, during times of food scarcity are more likely to eat younger Piranha to avoid starvation. During the wet season, the food is much more plentiful, but hungry Piranha usually spells disaster for juveniles.

For an aquarium, put Piranha of a similar age and size in the tank. Don’t add juvenile Piranha to adult tanks, or at least if you do, make sure they feeding schedule keeps the adults very well fed.


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