Red Belly Piranha (Pygocentrus Nattereri): The Ultimate Care Guide


Common NameRed Belly Piranha, Red Bellied Piranha
Scientific NamePygocentrus Nattereri
OriginSouth America
Temperature76F – 83F
Water pH6.5 – 7.8
Sizeup to 8 inches
DietOmnivorous

Red Belly Piranha Facts

  • Even though Red Belly Piranhas are depicted as flesh eating monsters of the Amazon, they rarely attack people or much larger animals unless their nests are threatened, or they are starving.
  • Red Belly Piranhas are great parent fish who will guard their nest of eggs from other fish so that they are not eaten until the fry have hatched and can hide amongst the plants.

Red Belly Piranhas can be identified by their grayish green bodies, with bright reddish orange bellies. They have lots of small black dots on their bodies, and have shorter dull colored fins that are powerful enough to help them get around quickly. They have small eyes located very close to their mouths. Their most distinguishing and also most recognisable characteristic of the Red Belly Piranha is their mouth that is full of sharp teeth.

Red Belly Piranha (Pygocentrus Nattereri)
Red Belly Piranha (Pygocentrus Nattereri)

Where Do Red Belly Piranha Live in the Wild?

In the wild, Red Belly Piranhas can be found in many waters in South America including the rivers of Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Peru. They inhabit both still and fast moving freshwater in the Amazon River Basin.

Red Belly Piranhas can be found in whitewaters, but have been found in blackwater and clearwater as well. They have even been found inhabiting the flooded forest where they search for food.

Are Red Belly Piranhas Good Pets?

It is possible to make a good pet out of a Red Belly Piranha. The key to your success in keeping them is to make sure that they are properly cared for, and their needs are being met.

If you are thinking of keeping Red Belly Piranha, you will want to make sure to check up on your local laws to make sure that they are not illegal to own in your state. 

Are Red Belly Piranhas Aggressive?

Red Belly Piranhas are considered the most aggressive species of piranha. Even though they are aggressive, they are not completely harmful to other fish or people. In fact, Red Belly Piranhas are a shy, timid fish that actually spends most of its time in hiding. They have been known to attack people, but only in extreme situations where they are starving, their territory is threatened, or they are scared.

Will Red Belly Piranha Attack Humans?

There have been Red Belly Piranha attacks on humans recorded. Red Belly Piranhas take to nesting and preparing to spawn around tourist holiday time, and unsuspecting tourists who wander into a nesting area have been attacked. In this situation, Piranhas are guarding their territory rather than going out hunting humans.

Piranhas do not hunt in packs, but they will gang up to strip a food source completely down to nothing.

Do Red Belly Piranha Have Teeth?

Red Belly Piranha have teeth even though you cannot see them by looking. They are covered up by their thick lips. Their teeth are triangular in shape, and razor sharp. They use their teeth to help them rip parts away from their food source in small enough bites so that they can eat it.

Red Belly Piranha Care

Red Belly Piranha are not easy to care for, as they require a lot of time and attention to keep happy. In the wild, Red Belly Piranhas are an active species that is always on alert so that they do not become prey themselves. This behavior makes them a very skittish fish that can have unpredictable behavior in the home aquarium. The key to keeping them calm is keeping them fed properly. When well fed, and provided with adequate space, you will end up with a much calmer, more predictable fish.

Food & Diet

Red Belly Piranhas are omnivorous. This means that they will eat both plant and animal matter. They are described as opportunistic feeders that will not shy away from anything that could be a potential meal. In the wild, this means that they eat a wide range of foods such as crustaceans, insects, other fish, aquatic plants, algae, and even the occasional bird or small animal that wanders into their territory. Although they do not hunt for food in packs, they will still rush to devour whatever other Red Belly Piranhas are eating. They can strip their food down to nothing in minutes.

In the home aquarium, Red Belly Piranhas should be fed a staple diet consisting of a variety of frozen, freeze dried, and live foods. It is not recommended to feed captive Red Belly Piranhas feeder fish as they are often bred and kept in unsanitary conditions and could potentially introduce disease into your aquarium and to your fish. You can still feed live fish if you would like, but it is a good idea to quarantine any fish you purchase for at least 2 weeks to help prevent introducing illness into your tank.

Considering the fact that Red Belly Piranhas are voracious eaters, it is not surprising to note that you can overfeed these fish. You will want to monitor how much and how often you are feeding your Red Belly Piranhas, and depending on their age and size, you will want to alter the amount you feed them. Keep in mind that they are messy eaters as well, and you will want to clean your tank often to keep water parameters correct for them.

Red Belly Piranha (Pygocentrus Nattereri)
Red Belly Piranha (Pygocentrus Nattereri)

Red Belly Piranha Size & Lifespan

In the wild, Red Belly Piranhas can grow up to 13 inches in length at full maturity, but in captivity they only make it to about 8 inches in length. When cared for properly, Red Belly Piranhas can live anywhere from 10 to 15 years.

Tank Requirements (Temperature, Water pH, and More)

Red Belly Piranhas require a large tank of at least 40 gallons for a single Red Belly Piranha though they will most likely be unhappy alone. They do best when kept in a group of at least 4 or more. To do this you will need a much larger aquarium to keep multiple Red Belly Piranhas happy. To keep a small group of Red Belly Piranhas, you will want an aquarium that is minimum 100 gallons with ample space for them to roam and hide. It is important to make sure that there are enough hiding spots for them as they are sensitive and shy fish who will most likely spend a lot of time in hiding.

They are happiest when their temperature is kept around 76F to 83F, and their water parameters kept at around 6.5 to 7.8 pH. It is important to keep their water clean as they are messy eaters, and the food they leave behind will mess with your water parameters.

Tank Setup

Some owners of Red Belly Piranhas prefer to keep their aquarium completely bare to allow for easy cleaning and maintenance. Red Belly Piranhas are messy eaters, and they require lots of water changes to keep their aquarium clean.

If you are wanting a more natural setup, then you can get ideas of what Red Belly Piranhas would like in their aquarium by simply looking at their natural environment. Submerged wood, lots of vegetation, and some gravel would all make for great decor for a Red Belly Piranha aquarium. Make sure that whatever you are putting in your aquarium for your Red Belly Piranha, that it does not have sharp or pointed edges as it is likely that overzealous eaters could potentially harm themselves while going after food.

It is also important to note that you will not only need to keep a large open swimming area for them to roam, but you will also want to make sure that you purchase a secure lid for their tank so they do not jump out. They are excellent jumpers, and if they feel insecure or threatened, they could jump out of their tank.

How Do You Setup the Ideal Habitat for Red Belly Piranha?

To create the ideal habitat for Red Belly Piranhas in captivity, you will want to try to set them up with an aquarium that closely resembles their natural habitat. By doing this, you are ensuring maximum comfort for your fish, and will most likely be rewarded with Red Belly Piranhas who hide much less.

A good idea for a habitat for Red Belly Piranha is an Amazonian Biotope setup with large driftwood pieces, and lots of densely planted vegetation. This not only offers them places to hide and de-stress, but also helps break up the habitat a little so that they can claim their own spaces.

Feeding Red Belly Piranhas

In the wild, Red Belly Piranha eat just about anything they can get their teeth on. Described as omnivorous, opportunistic feeders, they do not discriminate when it comes to feeding time. They can be found eating everything from bugs, crustaceans, other fish, insects, aquatic plants, algae, and even small animals and birds that wander too close to their nesting grounds.

In captivity, Red Belly Piranhas keep up the same attitude by eating pretty much whatever you give them. This is not the ideal diet however, they should be fed a varied protein packed, varied diet to ensure that all their dietary needs are being met. Depending on the size of the fish, you will want to alter the amount of food, and even the amount of times in which they are fed in a day. Younger Red Belly Piranhas need to be fed multiple times a day while older ones do not.

How Much Do Red Belly Piranha Eat?

Red Belly Piranhas typically eat about 1/8th their body mass in a day. Use caution when feeding as they are easy to over feed, and they are messy eaters.

How Often Do Red Belly Piranha Eat?

Mature Red Belly Piranhas only need to eat about once a day while juvenile Red Belly Piranhas need to be fed about 2 times per day. The amount you feed them depends on the size of the fish. It is important to monitor how often you are feeding, and how much you are feeding them so that it not only keeps your fish from bloating, but also helps keep down the bio-load in the aquarium as Red Belly Piranhas are messy eaters.

How Long Can Red Belly Piranha Go Without Food?

It has been said that Red Belly Piranhas can go up to 3 months without food, however this is widely debated. It is customary to not feed them for a few days in captivity when they are being introduced to a new environment, but they should be fed once they have settled in.

Red Belly Piranha Breeding

Believe it or not, Red Belly Piranhas are great parents but not a lot is known about their breeding habits in the wild. Red Belly Piranhas are a nesting species, and when males and females are ready to spawn, the female will lay up to 1000 eggs in her chosen area. The eggs stick into place, and the male comes along and fertilizes them.

There are success stories of breeding Red Belly Piranhas in captivity, usually after a large water change. Depending on the temperature, the eggs will hatch in 3 to 5 days. Until the eggs have hatched, adult Red Belly Piranhas have been seen circling and protecting their nests from predators who would like to eat their eggs. They guard their nests until their fry are hatched and can safely hide amongst the plants until they are large enough to hunt food on their own.

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Red Belly Piranha?

Unfortunately, it is not easy to tell the difference between male and female Red Belly Piranhas until they are mature. Once they are mature, you can spot the females with darker red bellies, especially around spawning time. They are also more rounded when they are full of eggs.

How Do You Take Care of Red Belly Piranha Fry?

It can be difficult to keep Red Belly Piranha fry as they are cannibalistic and will eat each other. You will want to keep moving them into larger tanks and feeding them well so that you are minimizing your risks of them eyeing each other for food.

Red Belly Piranha Disease

Red Belly Piranhas are a hardy fish that is almost never sick, in fact, if you notice that your fish are acting sick it is most likely due to stress. Red Belly Piranhas are a timid fish that is constantly on the lookout for larger fish that would make a meal out of them. This makes them flighty, and nervous. The key to keeping them healthy is by providing them with a setup that gives them plenty of space to hide and de-stress. Remember, a stressed fish is a sick one.

How Many Red Belly Piranha Should Be Kept Together?

Red Belly Piranha are not schooling fish, but they do prefer to be kept in a grouping of at least 4. It is possible to keep up to 6 together, but you will want to make sure that you can provide them with adequate enough space. You would need a tank of at least 100 gallons to house just 4 Red Belly Piranhas.

Red Belly Piranha Tank Mates

Red Belly Piranha fish that are well fed and properly cared for can be successfully kept with other fish without issue. They should be kept with fish that have a similar temperament and sizing to their own. Large Cichlid species that live and thrive in the same areas as Red Belly Piranhas are your best choice for tank mates. Peacock Cichlids, Armored Catfish, and Pacus are all great examples of fish that can be housed with Red Belly Piranha.

Red Belly Piranha and Oscar Fish

It is not impossible to successfully keep Red Belly Piranhas with Oscars, but you would have to have lots of room. Oscar Fish do not typically get along with other species of fish, and if you are not prepared properly, they can not live together without issue.

Where Can I Find Red Belly Piranha For Sale?

If you are looking to purchase Red Belly Piranha for yourself, you can find them online for sale from reputable breeders. You can expect to pay around $10 for a small juvenile. The price increases the larger they are.

Are Red Belly Piranha Legal to Keep?

If you are looking to purchase Red Belly Piranha for your home aquarium, you will first want to look up your local laws. They are illegal in a lot of places due to how invasive and damaging they can be when released in the wild.

Red Belly Piranha VS Black Piranha

Black Piranhas, as you can expect are distinguished from Red Belly Piranhas by their coloration, behavior, and their size. Red Belly Piranhas are smaller, but they are more aggressive. Black Piranhas sport super sharp teeth, and they prefer to live alone, unlike Red Belly Piranhas who appreciate company. Black Piranhas are the largest of their species.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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