Sole piranha

Piranha Facts for Kids [Child Friendly Information]

Piranha fish are fascinating creatures and there are many myths about them,

In reality, a lot of the information has arisen from Hollywood films and been exaggerated, or underwritten by misinformed claims. This has done a great disservice to the Piranha fish.

While not being a cuddly looking animal, it is certainly not the frenzied monster that many might believe.

So here are some facts to help you decide.

Fact 1 – Piranhas Need Warm Water to Survive

Piranha live exclusively in the warm Amazon basin and surrounding lakes. The Amazon is estimated to be about 70 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit along its 6400 km length. Piranhas will not eat food below 54 degrees Fahrenheit. The Piranha will not survive in the cold regions of the world, from Europe, to most US states without help.

Amazon river
The Amazon river: 70 – 88 degrees Fahrenheit

Fact 2 – The Piranha is an Omnivore

In an about twist on the myth, almost all Piranha feed on fruit and plants. Their diet mainly consists of fruit, crustaceans, plants, worms and insects.

Fruit above Amazon river
Fruit that Piranha are Waiting to Drop into the River

Fact 3 – Piranha Are a Colorful Fish

Piranha come in different colors, ranging from silver, orange, red, and  black. The average Piranha fish has a deep body, blunt head, and saw-edged bellies with strong jaws suitable for their scavenging lifestyles.

Red-Bellied piranha
The Red-Bellied Piranha Colors

Fact 4 – The Number of Piranha Species is Not Certain

According to fish experts ‘true piranhas’ are different from the herbivorous members. The exact number of Piranha species is not known. It is estimated to be 30 to 60. Newer Piranha fish species are being discovered making the exact count of species difficult. Scientists believe that there could easily still be newer species that have not yet been discovered.

Small Piranha fish
A Small Piranha Fish

Fact 5 – The Piranha is a Medium Sized Fish

Piranha fish are small to medium sized fish with generally grows to about 30cm. Their average weight is about 10 lbs across the different species of the fish. The extinct mega-piranha species was about 100cm and weighed more than the existing Piranhas.

caught piranha
A Fisherman With a Caught Piranha

Fact 6 – Piranhas Make Nests

The young Piranhas fry are hatched from eggs laid in the mud by the females, which the male Piranha fertilizes and takes care of the eggs. It is estimated that the survival rate for the young ones is estimated to be about 90 per cent as the older fish protect them until they can survive on their own. They are hatched in a nest made by the male when they are spawning.

a pair of piranha
A Pair of Nesting Piranha

Fact 7 – Piranhas Live For Around 10 to 15 Years

After the female Piranha lays her eggs, it will take approximately two days for these eggs to hatch especially if they are in warm water. These young fish are known as fry. They are so tiny when they are hatched they need the protection of their parents, as their natural habitat has predators and natural occurrences like floods that will be harmful. As they grow, they learn to hide under river plants when they feel threatened. The fry lives for five years before they are considered an adult Piranha fish. Their lifespan is around 15 years.

piranha in tank

Fact 8 – Their Bad Reputation is More of a Myth than a Reality

When President Roosevelt saw Piranhas eat the meat of a dead cow, he thought and recorded that these fish were dangerous. However, this is not true as Piranhas do not attack humans. Moreover, Hollywood has tarnished their reputation through villain movies that depict Piranhas as being dangerous in the wild. The Piranhas are more scavengers than anything else, and will eat anything in the wild, but mostly just fruit and plants.

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt – 26th President of the United States

Fact 9 – Piranhas Are Scavengers Not Hunters

Piranhas are scavengers, who feed on river plants and small insects and worms. They are therefore omnivorous fish. They do not attack big animals, but can however feed on dead animals that are washed down the river. Piranha will not attack you as they rarely attack large animals, since they fear you more.

A Red-Bellied Piranha
A Red-Bellied Piranha

Fact 10 – Piranha are Found Naturally Only Around the Amazon Basin

Most Piranhas are found in South America, occurring naturally in these ecosystems. Piranha have been shipped around the world but are present only in controlled environments like zoos and aquariums. They cannot survive naturally in the colder climates outside the Amazon basin.

Pictorial Amazon Basin

Fact 11 – Piranha’s Bark Like Dogs

Piranha, in a rare turn of events, can bark. Their barks are just like those of the dogs, they are a means of communication. Through barks, Piranhas pass a message to fellow fish and other animals, when they feel threatened. They will make noise that scientists have named ‘quick calls’ to scare the enemy away. They also make noises when they are calling other fish to alert other fish of potential threats. They make these noises by using their mouths or contacting and relaxing the muscles of the swim-bladder, that is filled with air.

the piranha bark

Fact 12 – Piranhas Stay in Schools For Security Rather than Hunting

Piranha are scavengers. Piranhas have many natural predators in their habitat. From storks and egrets to the caimans and alligators. Humans even hunt Piranhas for food. For security reasons they, therefore, stay in schools. Schools are one of the survival techniques of many fish, as they look like bigger prey to the large animals such as the river dolphins, caimans, and alligators.

piranha school
A Piranha School

Fact 13 – They Are Attracted to Noise

When the fruits fall from trees, over the river Amazon they make a splashing noise. This stimulates the Piranhas to think that it is meal time. Most Piranhas will move towards the direction of noise or splash as they scavenge for fallen fruits.

Fruits and seeds make a large percentage of Piranha food, and the sound of a fallen fruit will excite a hungry Piranha fish.

apple in water
An Apple dropping into Water

Fact 14 – The Piranha is a Good Source of Omega-3 and Omega-6

While some tribes that live in the Amazon think that it is a taboo to eat predatory fish like the Piranha, the fish is in fact a source of food to many. The Piranha is a good source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, that are good for development in children and other adults. In some parts of Brazil, Piranha is grilled and served on banana leaves.  Piranha soup is said to be delicious, and is sustenance for thousands that live off the river.

piranha on a plate
A Piranha Meal

Fact 15 – Piranhas Need an Aquarium that Resembles Their Natural Habitat

Anyone who decides to keep Piranha fish in an aquarium, must ensure that the aquarium is has spacious capacity as the fish love their space. They do not do well in very small spaces and large tanks are required to hold a school. Aquarium owners must ensure that there are plants in the aquarium, where the fish can hide, and spawn.  The aquarium must resemble their natural habitat in many areas including water temperature, foliage and a riverbed appearance.

Piranha Aquarium
A Piranha Aquarium

Fact 16 – You May Need a License to Own Piranha

Any ecosystem is a delicate balance that could be disrupted by the introduction of exotic breeds of animals or plant types. The US has laws to prohibit the misuse of Piranha and their accidental introduction into the natural world. It is doubtful many would survive the less than optimal temperatures and conditions outside Latin America anyway.

single piranha

Fact 17 – They’ve Been in the Amazon Region for 9 Million Years

Although it seems an impossibly long time, a study in 2007 found that their common ancestry goes that far back. Modern Piranha are only thought to have been around for 1.8 million years.

Amazon River
The Winding Amazon River

Fact 18 – They Are a Non Migratory Species

Preferring to remain in the same area all of their lives, Piranha do not migrate because of the very unique conditions of the Amazon basin. They only travel to seek out conditions conducive to breeding and spawning during periods of increased rainfall. They do not travel through waterways outside the optimal conditions for the fish.

Amazon River

Fact 19 – Piranha Guard the Eggs Until They Hatch

When the female is ready to lay its eggs, its abdomen swells as it produces eggs which are then ready to be laid. The male Piranha’s colors become brighter as it gets ready for the breeding season. The fish dedicate all their energy towards protection of the young from predators, till they are old enough to protect themselves. Once they can protect themselves, Piranha fry will naturally cluster in schools that give them a sense of protection against any predator, Piranha schools form at a young age.

2 piranha
Piranha Guarding Their Eggs

Fact 20 – Piranha Teeth are Used by Humans

Piranhas have sharp teeth, that are arranged on both rows. The word Piranha literary translates to ‘toothfish’ in local Brazilian language ‘Tupi’. The adult fish is known to have interlocking teeth that line the jaws. A Piranha tooth is said to be of a chiseled shaped, with enamel covering the teeth like those of the whales. Local tribes use the teeth as tools.

Piranha Jawbone
Piranha Jawbone

Fact 21 – Piranhas Replace Their Strong Teeth

Although Piranha teeth are intense, they are replaceable. Sharks are known to replace individual teeth as needed, but Piranha replaces their teeth throughout their life. However, you will still find Piranha fish with missing lower teeth occasionally.

piranha biting stick

Fact 22 – Piranhas Have a Very Strong Bite

Piranha fish possess such as strong bite, and can bite with quite a force. The Black Piranhas are the largest of the Piranhas and bites with a force equivalent to three times the weight of its body, estimated at a maximum force of 72 pounds. Their jaws have powerful muscles which make about two percent of their bodies; thus the strong bite, they can even tear through bulletproof vests and steel rods.

piranha bite hard
The Piranha Has a Powerful Bite


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