Colossoma or Piaractus sp.
Colossoma or Piaractus sp.
(unidentified pacu)
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Colossoma or Piaractus sp.

Common name: unidentified pacu

Identification: Machado-Allison (1982), who provided most recent revision, recognized two genera with three valid species: Colossoma macropomum, Piaractus brachypomus, and P. mesopotamicus. Many synonyms exist (Machado-Allison 1982).

Size: 90 cm SL.

Native Range: Tropical America. Amazon, Orinoco, and La Plata river basins, South America (Machado-Allison 1982).

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: A pacu was reported from an unspecified site in Arizona (no date was given) (Courtenay et al. 1984, 1991) also one was collected in Lake Pleasant, Maricopa County (Anonymous 2004). There have been several reports of single pacus taken in Arkansas including one specimen taken from Lake Valencia, Maumelle in Pulaski County in June, 1995 (T. Horton, personal communication); a single specimen collected in June 1992 from the Arkansas River near Little Rock in 1992 (Wright 1995); one taken from Lakewood Lake #1 in 1995 (Anonymous 2004); and another from Beaver Reservoir in the early 1990s (Wright 1995). A pacu was taken in California from the San Joaquin River in Fresno County during the summer of 1987 (Courtenay, personal communication); that fish and a second possible pacu from the same area were originally reported to be piranhas in newspaper articles (e.g., Anonymous 1987; Gordon 1987). Several specimens were collected in Florida from ponds in Daytona Beach, Volusia County (Courtenay et al. 1974; Courtenay and Hensley 1979). There is an unconfirmed report of a pacu caught near Vero Beach, Indian River County, in 1979 (Courtenay and Hensley 1979); a single specimen was taken in Crescent Lake, St. Petersburg, Pinellas County (Courtenay and Hensley 1979); Newnan's Lake, Gainesville, Alachua County, in July 1984 and in Blue Springs State Park in 2004 (J.B. Miller, personal communication) (this record may be a reporting error of a Piaractus brachypomus taken from the same site in May 1994); Crystal Lake, Pompano Beach, Broward County, ca. 1986 (Courtenay, personal communication); one fish (380 mm TL) was taken from a borrow pit near Vero Beach in Indian River County on 27 November 1988 (B. Barnett, personal communication); Pottsburg Creek on the Arlington River, Duval County, on 10 September 1989 (USGS/BRD-G database); Peace River (Lettuce Lake?), Fort Ogden, DeSoto County, in October 1989 (USGS/BRD-G database); reported from a pond in Stuart, Martin County, on 29 April 1991 (G. Gilmore, personal communication). Additional Florida records include collections or sightings of pacu in Citrus, Dade, Duval, Holmes, and Escambia counties (Massette 1993). There are several records of single fish taken from various sites in Georgia including a private pond in Cobb County, in 1987; Jesup or vicinity, Wayne County, in 1989; The Barnes Mill Lake subdivision, Cobb County, in June 1991; Stone Mountain Park Lake, Dekalb County, in July 1991; Lake Lanier, Forsyth County, in September 1991 (Gennings, personal communication), and the Chattahoochee River near Columbus in 2005 (Brasher 2005).  A pacu was reported from Lake Becera in Glendale Heights Heritage Park, Indiana, in 2004 (Gregory 2004).  A single fish was collected from Fish Lake, Goshen, Indiana, in May 2005 (D. Keller, pers. comm.). A pacu was collected in a small pond in the Jacob Krumm Nature Preserve, Iowa (Anonymous 2002).  A specimen was collected in Lake Becera in Glendale Heights Heritage Park, DuPage County, Illinois (Gregory 2004). Two fish, identified as pacus, were taken in Kansas from a pond in Chatauqua County in 1984 (J. Beam, personal communication). Another was taken in August 2004 from the Walnut River below Tunnel Mill Dam (Wright 2004).   An unidentified pacu was reported from Liberty Bayou in Louisiana (Massette 1993). Unidentified pacus have been reported from Missouri (Courtenay et al. 1991), but the only specific account is that of a single fish taken by an angler from Stockton Lake, Dade County, in 1994 (Banek, personal communication). Sporadic aquarium releases have been reported in Nebraska (Rasmussen 1998). An unidentified pacu was reported from New York in Onondaga Creek in Syracuse, Onondaga County, in August 1991 (R. Werner, personal communication 1991). There is a record of an unidentified pacu taken in North Carolina from the Pamlico River in or around 1989 (Lee 1991). A single specimen (about 25 cm long) taken with hook and line from Lake Erie in Ohio near an electric plant at Painesville, during the summer of 1975 (Moreno, personal communication); according to Moreno (personal communication), the fish was identified by Cleveland Aquarium staff as C. nigripinnis based on its black fins; this same fish was referenced as Colossoma sp. in Stroud (1976), and was likely the basis for Ohio Colossoma sp. listed in Courtenay et al. (1984, 1991); another single unidentified pacu, reported at a piranha, was collected in the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland (Anonymous 1998). Several pacu specimens taken in Oregon were not identified reliably to species; these included a fish taken by gill net from the Columbia River in September 1990; a specimen taken from a pond in Salem in 1991; a fish taken from the Long Tom River, Willamette River drainage, in August 1992; and a fish taken from Sellwood Park Pond on the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, in August 1995 (Logan et al. 1996). A pacu misidentified as a piranha was collected in the Lehigh River near Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania (Anonymous 1995).  Another specimen was collected in a pond near Philadelphia in Bucks County (Naedele 2004).  A single fish identified as a pacu was taken by an angler in South Carolina from the Sandy River, Broad River drainage, Chester County, in August 1993 (R. M. Stroud, personal communication); more recently pacus have been reported from Lake Hartwell, near Charleston (Marchand 1998). There are several records of single fish from Texas reported as Colossoma sp. by Howells et al. (1991), including ones found in Lake Lavon, Collin County, on 13 June 1987; Medina River in Medina County, in July 1988; the confluence of the San Marcos and Blanco rivers, Hays County, in July 1990; the Rhodair Gully near Taylor Bayou, on 30 September 1990; a marina at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Angelina County, on 24 July 1991; and Guadalupe River near Kerrville (Howells, personal communication). A pacu was collected from Lake Nasworthy in Tom Green County (Anonymous 2002). Another specimen was collected in Claiborne West Pond (Anonymous 2004).  Two specimens were taken in Virginia from the Roanoke River near Roanoke (Cochran 1987; Jenkins and Burkhead 1994, and a single specimen was caught in the Virginia Beach area during the spring of 1987 (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994). The species has been reported from an unspecified locality in Washington (Fletcher, personal communication).

Means of Introduction: These fish were probably aquarium releases, although some records may represent escapes from fish farms.

Status: Reported from at least 17 states including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Impact of Introduction: Unknown.

Remarks: All reports represent collections of single fish by anglers except where indicated. All Texas pacus but one (the Medina River fish) were seen and identified by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologists (Howells et al. 1991). Because most state fish and wildlife agencies do not maintain records of foreign fishes, many additional captures probably have gone unreported. A newspaper account of a piranha taken from the Lehigh River near Easton, Pennsylvania (Anonymous 1995), was most likely a pacu based on the reported fish size. In addition to the above unidentified pacus, there are at least two cases of what are apparently hybrid pacu, Colossoma macropomum x Piaractus sp. (L. G. Nico, unpublished data; also see Logan et al. 1996). One of these was taken in Oregon from the Snake River near Ontario State Park in Malheur County, on 19 July 1991 (Logan et al. 1996; museum voucher OS 13217). The other was taken in Florida from the Pompano Canal in Pompano Beach, Broward County, in December 1991 (museum voucher UF 96235). A pacu taken with a gill net from the Columbia River in Oregon in 1990 was originally identified as Colossoma macropomum by Logan (personal communication), but that fish was later treated as an unidentified Piaractus, possibly P. brachypomus by Logan et al. (1996). Brazilian aquaculturists have successfully produced hybrid pacus in captivity and a similar practice is likely taking place in some U.S. ornamental fish farms (M. Goulding, personal communication)

References: (click for full references)

Anonymous. 1987. Piranha found in San Joaquin River. Monterey Peninsula Herald, 7 July 1987. p. 23.

Anonymous. 1995. Fisherman pulls piranha from river near Easton. Pocono Record (August 1):5, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Anonymous. 1998. Editorial: The river that bites. Available at URL

Anonymous. 2004. Hot Spot Fishing Records, Pacu. Available at URL

Banek, T.J. - Fisheries Management Biologist, Missouri Department of Conservation, Springfield, MO.

Cochran, B. 1987. Jaws: fish caught in Roanoke River resembles tough cousin but is harmless. Roanoke Times & World-News, 3 October 1987. p. B1.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr. - Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and D.A. Hensley. 1979. Survey of introduced non-native fishes. Phase I Report. Introduced exotic fishes in North America: status 1979. Report Submitted to National Fishery Research Laboratory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., D.P. Jennings, and J.D. Williams. 1991. Appendix 2: exotic fishes. Pages 97-107 in Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott, eds. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada, 5th edition. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 20. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., D.A. Hensley, J.N. Taylor, and J.A. McCann. 1984. Distribution of exotic fishes in the continental United States. Pages 41-77 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., eds. Distribution, biology and management of exotic fishes. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Fletcher, D. - Warmwater Fisheries Resource Manager, Washington Department of Wildlife, Olympia, WA. Response to NBS-G nonindigenous questionaire and other reports. 1992.

Gennings, R.M. - Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Atlanta, GA. Response to NBS-G nonindigenous questionaire.

Gilmore, G. - Harbor Branch Marine Institute, Fort Pierce, FL.

Gordon, B. 1987. Piranhas caught in Fresno County. San Francisco Chronicle, 8 July 1987. p. 31.

Horton, T. - Arkansas Fish and Wildlife Magazine, Little Rock, AR.

Howells, R.G., R.L. Benefield, and J.M. Mambretti. 1991. Records of pacus (Colossoma spp.) and piranhas (Serrasalmus spp.) in Texas. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Management Data Series 70, Austin, TX.

Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Logan, D.J., E.L. Bibles, and D.F. Markle. 1996. Recent collections of exotic aquarium fishes in the freshwaters of Oregon and thermal tolerance of Oriental weatherfish and pirapatinga. California Fish and Game 82(2):66-80.

Machado-Allison, A. 1982. Estudio sobre la subfamilia Serrasalminae (Teleostei, Characidae). Prte 1. Estudio comparado de los juveniles de las "cachamas" de Venezuela (generos Colossoma y Piaractus). Acta Biologica Venezuelica 11(3):1-101.

Marchand, N. 1998. Regional news: settling in. Outdoor Life Magazine 201(3):96.

Miller, J.B. - Division of Ichthyology, Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL. (currently with Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Park Service, Hobe Sound, FL)

Moreno, D. - Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland, OH.

Rasmussen, J.L. 1998. Aquatic nuisance species of the Mississippi River basin. 60th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Aquatic Nuisance Species Symposium, Dec. 7, 1998, Cincinnati, OH.

Stroud, R.A. 1976. Ohio piranha. Sport Fishing Institute Bulletin 272:3.

Tilyou, G.A. - Inland Fish Division, Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries, Baton Rouge, LA. Response to NBS-G nonindigenous questionaire. 1992.

Werner, R. - School of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.

Wright, S. 1995. Piranha or pacu ? it's still a whale of a fish tale. Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville), 7 June 1995, 129(350):B6.

Other Resources:
Fact Sheet for Colossoma macropomum - USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Fact Sheet for Piaractus brachypomus - USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Fact Sheet for Piaractus mesopotamicus - USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Author: Leo Nico, and Pam Fuller

Revision Date: 4/11/2006

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, and Pam Fuller, 2018, Colossoma or Piaractus sp.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 4/11/2006, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 3/19/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/19/2018].

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