Piaractus brachypomus
Piaractus brachypomus
(pirapatinga, red-bellied pacu)
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Piaractus brachypomus (Cuvier, 1818)

Common name: pirapatinga, red-bellied pacu

Synonyms and Other Names: Colossoma bidens (Spix and Agassiz 1829), C. brachypomum (Cuvier 1818), Myletes paco Humboldt 1821; cachama blanca

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Machado-Allison (1982) revised the pacus and provided distinguishing characteristics for Piaractus brachypomus. Many Piaractus taken in U.S. waters have been misidentified and reported as the red piranha Pygocentrus nattereri or as other common pacu species: tambaqui Colossoma macropomum or small-scaled pacu P. mesopotamicus. Species descriptions provided by Britski (1977) and Machado-Allison (1982). For photographs, see Machado-Allison (1982), Géry (1977, identified as Colossoma sp. on pages 252 and 256) and Goulding (1980, identified as C. bidens).

Red-bellied pacu can be distinguished from piranhas primarily by dentition (single row of serrated incisor-like teeth in piranhas vs. two rows of molariform teeth in pacus). This species can be distinguished from tambaqui (Colossoma macropomum) by the adipose fin (rays present in C. macropomum vs. absent in P. brachypomus) dentition (triangular space between premaxillary tooth rows in P. brachypomus vs. no space in C. macropomum; teeth on maxillary bone in P. brachypomus vs. no teeth on maxillary in C. macropomum), and opercle shape (short and not semilunate, height/width ratio >2.0 in P. brachypomus vs. semilunate, h/w ratio ~1.5 in C. macropomum). Piaractus brachypomus can be distinguished from P. mesopotamicus primarily by the number of lateral scales (<110 in P. brachypomus vs. >110 in P. mesopotamicus)(Goulding and Carvalho 1982; Ruiz-Carus and Davis 2003)

Size: 85 cm SL and 20 kg.

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

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Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: Red-bellied pacu have been collected from a variety of locations within the following states: Alabama (Middleton 1988; Bonner 2005; L. Hartman, personal communication; S. Rider, personal communication; museum specimens), Arizona (Suarez 2006; Nellans 2009), Arkansas (Wright 1995a, b; Loe 2005), California (Carter 2000; Rockenstein 2008; D. Logan, personal communication; museum specimens), Colorado (Anonymous 2004a; Nicholson 2008; J. Pond, personal communication; P. Walker, personal communication), Connecticut (Jacobson 2007), Florida (Ruiz-Carus and Davis 2003; Milligan 2009; Killer 2010; EDDMaps 2012; R. Baumberger, personal communication; W. Courtenay, personal communication; G. Kelley, personal communication; D. Myles, personal communication; P. Stevens, personal communication; museum specimens), Georgia (D. Bechler, personal communication; T. Bonvechio, personal communication; R.M. Gennings, personal communication; R. Webb, personal communication; museum specimens), Hawaii (Wright 2004), Idaho (A. Ferriter, personal communication), Illinois (Anonymous 1988; Burr et al. 1996; Chinwah 2005; Bowman 2009a, b, c; Bowman 2011; Kaplan 2012; B. Burr, personal communication; K. TePas, personal communication; museum specimens), Indiana (Simon and Breidert 2003; Watling 2009; Anonymous 2013; D. Keller, personal communication; L. Lehman, personal communication), Iowa (Black 2009; Saunders 2013), Kentucky (Landers 1991; J. Herod, personal communication; museum specimen), Louisiana (Richie 2004; D. Hickman, personal communication; R. Hillebrandt, personal communication), Maine (Holyoke 2010), Maryland (Maryland Department of Natural Resources 2004, 2005; Thomson 2006a, b), Massachusetts (Hartel 1992; Hartel et al. 1996; museum specimens), Michigan (Anonymous 2006a; Neavling 2007; McMillin 2011), Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2005; K. Schmidt, personal communication), Mississippi (Ross and Brenneman 1991; Jones 2004; N. Aycock, personal communication; M. Brainard, personal communication; D. Riecke, personal communication; museum specimens), Missouri (Anonymous 2006b; Piper 2011; T. Banek, personal communication), Montana (M. Vaughn, personal communication), Nebraska (Welsch 1996; Anonymous 2008; Duggan 2008; S. Schainost, personal communication), New Hampshire (Brooks 2005), New Jersey (Hutchinson 2007; Milavsky 2006; Beym 2011; G. Horvath, personal communication), Nevada (Bly 2008), New York (Arnold 2005; Figura 2010; Nearing 2011; Lore 2012; museum records), North Carolina (Lee 1991; Dyches 2010; Anonymous 2011a; Barr 2013; Ohnesorge 2013; R. Lukens, personal communication; museum specimens), North Dakota (Fundingsland 2006), Ohio (Stephens 2005; Carney 2010; Mawson 2010; Vidika 2010; Anonymous 2011b; A. Eibling, personal communication), Oklahoma (Rains 2010; Bostian 2011; K. Holcomb, personal communication; B. Hysmith, personal communication; E. Laney, personal communication; J. Schooley, personal communication), Oregon (Logan 1994; Logan et al. 1996; museum specimens), Pennsylvania (Dyer 2001; Weisburg 2006, 2007; Reilly 2009; Seely 2011; Rocco 2013), South Carolina (South Carolina Department of Natural Resources 2006; Brown 2007; Simon 2009; Cope 2010; R. Stroud, personal communication), South Dakota (Anonymous 2001a, b; Anonymous 2005), Tennessee (Grubb 2008; Gebbia 2012), Texas (Howells et al. 1991; Anonymous 1994; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 2001; Anonymous 2004b; Killin 2005; Knight 2005; Berghom 2007; Frazier 2007; Jacobs 2009; KLTV web staff 2012; Roden 2011; Rojas 2012; L. Pearson, personal communication; M. Poteet, personal communication; museum specimens), Utah (Anonymous 2006c), Vermont (Anonymous 2009a), Virginia (Bohn 1988; Conley 2005; Voth 2012; Raymond 2013), Washington (Roesler 2003; Anonymous 2009b; Davis 2013), West Virginia (Anonymous 2009c; M. Priddy, personal communication), and Wisconsin (Niskanen 2006; Clark 2009; McCoy 2010; Moorhead 2010). The species is reported in Lakes Huron, Erie, Michigan, and Ontario (Cudmore-Vokey and Crossman 2000).

Ecology: Red-bellied pacu are mainly vegetarian and frugivorous, consuming fruits and nuts from a variety of floodplain forest trees during the flood season and are major seed dispersers (Anderson et al. 2009). Red-bellied pacu undergo seasonal spawning migrations, moving from marginal lagoons and ponds at the beginning of flood season and migrating upstream to spawn in headwaters. Larvae are transported downstream to floodplain forests and savannas, consuming plankton (Machado-Allison 1992).

Means of Introduction: Most records likely represent aquarium releases, although some Florida and Georgia records may have resulted from fish farm escapes.

Status: Reported from 43 states; failed in all. Although some larger individuals have been captured, no instances of spawning or successful reproduction have been documented. Most reports are of single or few specimens.

Impact of Introduction: Unknown.

Remarks: This species is a popular aquarium fish and is sold in most pet stores as juveniles. In warmer climates such as south Florida, it is also a popular pond fish. It is a prized food fish in South America. Colossoma bidens and C. brachypomum are junior synonyms that have been widely used in the aquarium literature and in most past reports concerning fish introductions. To date, records maintained by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on introduced foreign fishes show pacus identified as either Colossoma bidens (= Piaractus brachypomus) or as unidentified pacus. No C. macropomum have yet been taken in Georgia. A fish taken from the Snake River in Oregon (OS 13217) was originally identified as C. macropomum by Logan (1994), but one of us (LGN) examined this specimen and it more likely represents a hybrid between C. macropomum and Piaractus (also see Logan et al. 1996). All Texas specimens were taken by anglers and later identified by biologists of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Selected voucher specimens: Alabama: (UF 98946); California (CAS 217067, 217648); Florida (UF 42782, 87879, 94136, 107100); Georgia (UF 98944); Illinois (SIUC 19835); Kentucky (SIUC 22241); Massachusetts (MCZ 96096); Mississippi (USM 14134, 14160, 14637); Montana (uncatalogued); North Carolina (NCSM 58972, 59640); Oregon (OS 11491); Texas (TNHC 11037).

Voucher photographs: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Texas (video film), and Virginia.

References: (click for full references)

Anderson, J.T., J. Saldaña Rojas, A.S. Flecker. 2009. High quality seed dispersal by fruit-eating fishes in Amazonian floodplain habitats. Oecologia 161:279-290. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00442-009-1371-4.

Anonymous. 1988. Mighty Mississippi is full of secrets. Randolph County Herald Tribune. Chester, IL. 1988 (September 21).

Anonymous. 1994. Water body records. Texas Parks & Wildlife News 1994(February 25):1-19.

Anonymous. 2001a. Piranha caught at Lake Herman. KELOLAND TV. Sioux Falls, SD. http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/piranha-caught-at-lake-herman-/?id=12795. Created on 08/14/2001. Accessed on 08/20/2013.

Anonymous. 2001b. Lake Herman fish may not be piranha. KELOLAND TV. Sioux Falls, SD. http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/lake-herman-fish-may-not-be-piranha/?id=12860. Created on 08/17/2001. Accessed on 08/20/2013.

Anonymous. 2004a. Beware of unwanted exotic fish. Summit Daily News. St. Frisco, CO. August 24. http://www.summitdaily.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040824/SPORTS/108240011. Created on 08/24/2004.

Anonymous. 2004b. Pacu fishing records. http://www.hotspotfishing.com/records/fish-records-Pacu.asp. Accessed on 08/19/2004.

Anonymous. 2005. Piranha caught in Missouri River. WOWT Channel 6. Omaha, NE. http://www.wowt.com/news/headlines/1649296.html. Created on 06/18/2005. Accessed on 08/20/2013.

Anonymous. 2006a. A piranha in the UP? WLUC TV6. June 21. http://www.wluctv6.com/Global/story.asp?S=5062066&nav=81AX. Created on 06/21/2006.

Anonymous. 2006b. Man catches pacu fish in Mississippi. KSDK-TV. July 28, 2006. http://www.ksdk.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=101082. Created on 07/28/2006. Accessed on 02/26/2010.

Anonymous. 2006c. Fishy scare at Utah Lake was only piranha look-alike. Deseret News. Salt Lake City, UT. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/640194089/Fishy-scare-at-Utah-Lake-was-only-piranha-look-alike.html. Created on 07/12/2006. Accessed on 07/12/2006.

Anonymous. 2008. Mixed Bag: Unusual catch. NebraskaLand Magazine. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Lincoln, NE. 2008 (December):11.

Anonymous. 2009a. South American fish found in Otter Creek. Vermont Daily News. Burlington, VT. http://vermontdailynews.com/2009/10/south-american-fish-found-in-otter-creek/. Created on 10/23/2009. Accessed on 10/29/2009.

Anonymous. 2009b. Toddler reels in piranha cousin from Northwest lake. KHQ Q6. Spokane, WA. http://www.khq.com/story/10972545/toddler-reels-in-piranha-cousin-from-northwest-lake. Created on 08/21/2009. Accessed on 08/22/2013.

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Anonymous. 2011a. Man catches piranha-like fish at Mountain Island Lake. WBTV. Charlotte, NC. http://www.wbtv.com/story/14890904/piranha-related-fish-caught-in-local-lake. Created on 06/12/2011. Accessed on 08/12/2013.

Anonymous. 2011b. Fish similar to piranha found in Buckeye Lake. WBNS-10TV. Columbus, OH. http://www.10tv.com/content/stories/2011/08/11/buckeye-lake-pacu-pirahana-fishing.html. Created on 08/11/2011. Accessed on 08/19/2013.

Anonymous. 2013. Piranha-like fish found in White River in Indianapolis. WTHR. Indianapolis, IN. http://www.wthr.com/story/23145529/2013/08/15/piranha-like-fish-found-in-white-river-in-indianapolis. Created on 08/15/2013. Accessed on 08/21/2013.

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Pearson, L. - Austin, Texas.

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FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 10/22/2013

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson, 2017, Piaractus brachypomus (Cuvier, 1818): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=427, Revision Date: 10/22/2013, Access Date: 10/23/2017

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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The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2017]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [10/23/2017].

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