- Visit the Aquarium
- Animals & Exhibits
- Fun & Learning
- Aquatic Research
Red-bellied piranhas will range between 10 to 14 inches in length and can weigh over 7 pounds
Red-bellied piranhas are native to warm fresh water (most notably the Amazon River) throughout South America.
A medium sized fish, red-bellied piranhas have a thin shape when viewed head-on but from the side they appear broad and round. These fish were named for the contrast of their orange or red stomach to their silver or gold speckled gray body and black fins. It has been seen that body color may be slightly different depending on age, location and gender.
Usually found in fast moving portions of rivers, piranhas will move to flooded riverside regions to feed and reproduce.
Using sharp triangular teeth, red-bellied piranhas are opportunistic feeders, the feed on insects, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, birds, small mammals, algae and water plants. Working together as a group to prey on larger food sources; piranhas will sometimes use a scout fish to assess a potential prey, if the animal is too lively then the group will not attack. Although they are often named the most dangerous Amazonian fish, humans regularly swim, bathe and wash clothes in piranha infested waters without incident!
A staple diet of humans, crocodiles, caiman, and larger fish species (including vampire tetra).
During mating season, red-bellied piranhas will move to regions of slow moving waters. Females will lay up to 5000 eggs at a time and are ready to lay another batch in just a few weeks. The male will swim by and fertilize the eggs which are sticking to plants and sediment. During the mating season, the male will guard the eggs and are extremely territorial toward all nearby fish and potential predators (including humans). Young will hatch in a few days to a week and spend the first few months feeding on insects during the day (the opposite time of day that adult piranha feed).
Q: What does a piranha eat?
A: The large majority of piranhas, like the ones that we have here at the aquarium, will eat meat but there are also a lot of members of the piranha family that eat strictly vegetation, such as seeds and fruits that fall into the water.
Q: Is there a feeding frenzy when you the fish?
A: There is a little bit of a feeding frenzy but it all depends on how hungry they are. It’s not as crazy as most people think. Initially at the beginning part of the feed, they do tend to be a little crazy.
Q: Why does it look like the piranhas teeth are missing?
A: Their teeth aren’t very long but they are very sharp and triangular in shape. The gums around the mouth actually hide the teeth but when they bite and feed you can see the teeth for a short moment.
Q: Are all piranhas about the same size?
A: Most piranhas are pretty small and the largest species is the black piranha which may reach 17-20 inches, so not too big. There are other species in the 4-5 inch range but for the most part they are just medium sized fish.
Q: Why does it look like the piranhas have sparkles?
A: Why do the piranhas have sparkles? That’s a good question. I’m not exactly sure but I have a feeling that it has to do with the sunlight that enters the water. When you are diving in cloudy river systems, like the Amazon, you will see little reflections of light coming off the particles of water. So, I would believe that these sparkles would help the fish to camouflage.
Q: Are piranhas vicious and dangerous to work with?
A: Piranhas are definitely not vicious fish! The red-bellied piranhas that we have at the aquarium, are very timid animals. We have to put a scuba diver in the exhibit to clean about once a month and the fish just hide in the corner. It sometimes takes up to 6 days for the fish to get their appetite back just because they are so afraid of humans in the water.
Q: What is you favorite part of working with piranhas?
A: My favorite part of working with the piranha is the feed. At the beginning they are quite savage and we have to make sure to use small pieces of food because if they have food hanging out of their mouths a buddy might come by and bite them. This may injure the fish. Even though they don’t show off the true piranha that we think of normally, we still have to be very careful during the feed. It is quite fun to watch.
Species of the Month Podcast: Are piranhas really man eaters?
Join MaryEllen and special podcast guest, Mystic Aquarium Fish & Invertebrates Aquarist, Cris Sodergren as they discover the truth about these Amazonian predators!
MaryEllen wants to hear from you! Send questions, comments and suggestions for future podcast topics to [email protected].
Scientific Name: Pygocentrus nattereri
Size: African penguins range from 18 to 25 inches tall and weigh up to 11 pounds
Range/Distribution: The only penguin to breed in Africa, the African penguin ranges from Namibia to South Africa. Young penguins have been known to migrate north and west along the coastline and are found between Southern Angola, Namibia, and sometimes found off Gabon, Congo, and Mozambique, but generally reside in South Africa.
Appearance: The African penguin has a robust, torpedo-shaped body with black feathers on their back, flippers, and head while white feathers cover their front with the exception of horseshoe-shaped black stripe on the chest. Following the penguin’s first few molts a white stripe will develop around its cheek and throat. These birds have a bare patch above their eyes to assist with regulating their body temperature.
Habitat: When not hunting for food in the water, African penguins are found along rocky shores or brushy coastal areas.
Prey: African penguins feed on 25 species of fish, such as sardine and anchovy but also prey on squid and krill. A penguin may eat up to one pound of food or up to 14% of their weight.
Predators: African penguins face predation by gulls, feral cats and mongoose while nesting on land, while sharks and fur seals hunt African penguins in the water.
Life Span: The African penguin may live up to late 30 years in an aquarium or zoo but averages of 15-20 years are seen in the wild populations.
Mating Behaviors: There are no set breeding seasons for African penguins, however, most penguin pairs are monogamous and will remain together over several breeding years. The male will prepare a nest by digging a shallow burrow in sand or in brush using guano (penguin waste) and any materials nearby to complete the nest for the female to lay two eggs. Both the male and female share the nesting and chick duties, keeping the young safe from predators and warm temperatures. The chicks will hatch between 38 and 42 days and will leave the nest when they are between 60 to 130 days of age.
© 2008-2015, Sea Research Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved
55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, CT 06355-1997 | [email protected]
P: 860.572.5955 | F: 860.572.5969