The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Piaractus brachypomus
Piaractus brachypomus
(pirapitinga, red-bellied pacu)

Copyright Info
Piaractus brachypomus (Cuvier, 1818)

Common name: pirapitinga, 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 and P. orinoquensis by the number of lateral line scales (84-100 in P. brachypomus vs. 107-128 and 72-89, respectively), scale rows above the lateral line (31-37 in P. brachypomus vs. 50-60 and 23-30, respectively), and scale rows below the lateral line (33-37 in P. brachypomus vs. 49-56 and 22-32, respectively) (Goulding and Carvalho 1982; Ruiz-Carus and Davis 2003, Escobar et al. 2019).

Size: 85 cm SL and 20 kg.

Native Range: Amazon River basin; Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru (Escobar et al. 2019)

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Piaractus brachypomus are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
AL198820145Guntersville Lake; Lower Coosa; Lower Elk; Middle Tombigbee-Chickasaw; Mobile Bay
AZ200620184Agua Fria; Lower Gila; Middle Gila; Upper Santa Cruz
AR199520163Dardanelle Reservoir; Illinois; Ouachita Headwaters
CA198720166Coyote; Middle San Joaquin-Lower Chowchilla; San Jacinto; San Pablo Bay; Upper Cache; Upper Tuolumne
CO200320146Cache La Poudre; Colorado Headwaters-Plateau; Middle South Platte-Cherry Creek; Uncompahgre; Upper Arkansas; Upper South Platte
DE201920192Brandywine-Christina; Nanticoke
FL1965202213Cape Canaveral; Choctawhatchee Bay; Crystal-Pithlachascotee; Florida Bay-Florida Keys; Florida Southeast Coast; Kissimmee; Lake Okeechobee; Oklawaha; Peace; Sarasota Bay; South Atlantic-Gulf Region; Tampa Bay; Upper St. Johns
GA1982201611Apalachicola Basin; Etowah; Lower Savannah; Savannah; South Atlantic-Gulf Region; Upper Chattahoochee; Upper Coosa; Upper Flint; Upper Ocmulgee; Upper Tallapoosa; Withlacoochee
IL198820209Big Muddy; Des Plaines; Lake Michigan; Lower Rock; Lower Sangamon; Shoal; Upper Fox; Upper Illinois; Upper Mississippi-Cape Girardeau
IN2002201511Chicago; Driftwood; Eel; Kankakee; Little Calumet-Galien; Lower East Fork White; Middle Wabash-Little Vermilion; Mississinewa; Muscatatuck; St. Joseph; Upper White
IA200920132Maquoketa; Middle Iowa
KY199120104Lower Cumberland; Lower Levisa; Middle Fork Kentucky; Upper Cumberland-Lake Cumberland
LA200220116Bayou Pierre; Bayou Teche; Black; Castor; Cross Bayou; Loggy Bayou
ME201020101Aroostook River
MD199520064Gunpowder-Patapsco; Lower Susquehanna; Middle Potomac-Anacostia-Occoquan; Patuxent
MA199019942Charles; Quinebaug River
MI200220166Flint; Huron; Keweenaw Peninsula; Lake St. Clair; Lower Grand; Manistee
MN199620146Buffalo-Whitewater; Little Sioux; Lower Minnesota; Rainy Headwaters; Rush-Vermillion; Twin Cities
MS198220127Black; Bogue Chitto; Lower Leaf; Lower Yazoo; Mississippi Coastal; Pascagoula; Upper Leaf
MO199520113Peruque-Piasa; Sac; The Sny
MT199419952Flathead Lake; Upper Yellowstone-Pompeys Pillar
NE198820082Blackbird-Soldier; Salt
NV200820081Lower Virgin
NH200520051Merrimack River
NJ200420155Crosswicks-Neshaminy; Hackensack-Passaic; Lower Delaware; Middle Delaware-Musconetcong; Mullica-Toms
NY199020127Lake Erie; Lake Ontario; Middle Hudson; Mohawk; Oneida; Rondout; Sandy Hook-Staten Island
NC199120196Lower Neuse; New River; Northeast Cape Fear; Upper Catawba; Upper Dan; Upper Neuse
ND200620061Upper Heart
OH200520188Black-Rocky; Cuyahoga; Lake Erie; Licking; Mohican; Raccoon-Symmes; Sandusky; Tuscarawas
OK199920188Black Bear-Red Rock; Lake Texoma; Lower Cimarron; Lower Cimarron-Skeleton; Lower Verdigris; Middle North Canadian; Polecat-Snake; Upper Washita
OR198819954Lower Willamette; Middle Columbia-Hood; Middle Snake-Payette; Upper Willamette
PA200120135Lower Allegheny; Lower Delaware; Lower Susquehanna; Schuylkill; Upper Ohio
SC200320235Carolina Coastal-Sampit; Saluda; Seneca; Tyger; Upper Catawba
SD200120052Lewis and Clark Lake; Lower Big Sioux
TN200820203Holston; Lower Mississippi-Memphis; Stones
TX1980201929Austin-Travis Lakes; Buffalo-San Jacinto; Chambers; Elm-Sycamore; Leon; Lower Angelina; Lower Colorado-Cummins; Lower San Antonio; Lower Trinity; Lower Trinity-Kickapoo; Lower West Fork Trinity; Medina; Middle Brazos-Lake Whitney; Middle Brazos-Palo Pinto; Middle Sabine; Navasota; North Concho; North Galveston Bay; Sabine Lake; Salt Fork Brazos; San Marcos; South Concho; South Laguna Madre; Spring; Upper Angelina; Upper Clear Fork Brazos; Upper Neches; Upper West Fork Trinity; West Fork San Jacinto
UT200620173Escalante Desert; Upper Virgin; Utah Lake
VT200920091Otter Creek
VA198820134Conococheague-Opequon; Middle Potomac-Anacostia-Occoquan; North Fork Shenandoah; Upper Roanoke
WA199820133Little Spokane; Palouse; Stillaguamish
WV200920112Lower Kanawha; North Branch Potomac
WI200020105Castle Rock; La Crosse-Pine; Lake Michigan; Lake Winnebago; Lower St. Croix

Table last updated 7/22/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

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: The impacts of this species are currently unknown, as no studies have been done to determine how it has affected ecosystems in the invaded range. The absence of data does not equate to lack of effects. It does, however, mean that research is required to evaluate effects before conclusions can be made.

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. https://www.deseret.com/2006/7/12/19963221/fishy-scare-at-utah-lake-was-only-piranha-look-alike. 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.

Anonymous. 2009c. Unique catch. The Cumberland Times-News. Cumberland, MD. http://times-news.com/archive/x46892059/Unique-catch. Created on 08/28/2009. Accessed on 08/22/2013.

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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Bostian, K. 2011. Piranha-like fish found at Keystone Lake. The Tulsa World. Tulsa, OK. http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20110928_11_0_Apairo223553. Created on 09/28/2011. Accessed on 10/18/2011.

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Chinwah, L. 2005. Second piranha in 3 days caught in Wauconda lake. Daily Herald. Arlington Heights, IL. http://www.dailyherald.com. Created on 07/22/2005. Accessed on 07/25/2005.

Clark, C. 2009. Piranha caught in Lake Winnebago? WLUK FOX 11. Green Bay, WI. http://www.fox11online.com/news/strange/local_wluk_fonddulac_piranha_caught_in_lake_winnebago_200909161700_rev2. Created on 09/16/2009. Accessed on 08/22/2013.

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McCoy, J. 2010. Catch looks like piranha, but it's equally rare pacu. Portage Daily Register. Portage, WI. http://www.wiscnews.com/news/article_2224f440-8b18-11df-b5c9-001cc4c002e0.html. Created on 07/08/2010. Accessed on 08/06/2013.

McMillin, Z. 2011. Crikey! Jenison couple finds piranha-like fish in Grand River. The Grand Rapids Press. Grand Rapids, MI. August 7. http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/08/crikey_jenison_couple_finds_pi.html. Created on 08/07/2011. Accessed on 08/08/2011.

Middleton, K. 1988. Man-eating fish found in river. Athens News Courier, 1 September 1988. 105(177):1-2.

Milavsky, B. 2006. Something's fishy about local man's latest catch. The Express-Times. Easton, PA. July 31, 2006:A2.

Milligan, D. 2009. Fishing for bream, catching a 16-pound pacu. The Ledger. Lakeland, FL. http://www.theledger.com/article/20091118/NEWS/911185075. Created on 11/18/2009. Accessed on 12/04/2009.

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Moorhead, C. 2010. Funny-looking fish are no laughing matter. Houston County News. La Crosse, WI. http://lacrossetribune.com/houstonconews/news/local/funny-looking-fish-are-no-laughing-matter/article_ef2cf598-bb96-57f8-b587-6fbc9679fb73.html. Created on 09/08/2010. Accessed on 08/07/2013.

Nearing, B. 2011. 'Vegetarian piranha' hooked in Hudson. The Times Union. Albany, NY. http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Vegetarian-piranha-hooked-in-Hudson-1584936.php. Created on 07/25/2011. Accessed on 08/07/2013.

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Nellans, J.D. 2009. You won't believe this PV angler's catch. The Daily Courier. Prescott, AZ. http://www.dcourier.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=71605&SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&S=1. Created on 08/21/2009. Accessed on 07/25/2013.

Nicholson, K. 2008. Angler lands toothy catch in Lakewood. The Denver Post. Denver, CO. http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_9699546. Created on 06/28/2008. Accessed on 08/16/2013.

Niskanen, C. 2006. Lifelong St. Croix River angler reels in a big surprise. St. Paul Pioneer Press. St. Paul, MN. July 9:G7.

Ohnesorge, S. 2013. Exotic fish caught in Lake Hickory, "tip of the problem" say wildlife officials. WBTV. Charlotte, NC. http://www.wbtv.com/story/22636819/exotic-fish-caught-in-lake-hickory-tip-of-the-problem-say-wildlife-officials. Created on 06/19/2013. Accessed on 08/12/2013.

Pearson, L. - Austin, Texas.

Piper, B. 2011. Red-bellied pacu caught in Lake St. Louis dies. KSDK-TV. St. Louis, MO. http://www.ksdk.com/news/article/271084/3/Red-bellied-pacu-caught-in-Lake-St-Louis. Created on 08/10/2011. Accessed on 08/15/2013.

Rains, C. 2010. Meadowlake fisherman lands exotic catch. Enid News and Eagle. Enid, OK. http://enidnews.com/localnews/x180470045/Meadowlake-fisherman-lands-exotic-catch. Created on 09/29/2010. Accessed on 09/30/2010.

Raymond, A. 2013. Winchester man catches fish in the piranha family. TV3 Winchester. Winchester, VA. http://www.tv3winchester.com/home/headlines/209285131.html. Created on 05/30/2013. Accessed on 08/21/2013.

Reilly, P.J. 2009. South American pacu hooked in Conestoga. LancasterOnline. Lancaster, PA. http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/241644_South-American-pacu-hooked-in-Conestoga.html. Created on 09/01/2009. Accessed on 08/19/2013.

Richie, K. 2004. Amazonian fish caught in Caney Lake. Minden Press-Herald. April 28, 2004.

Rocco, D. 2013. Man catches rare fish in Delaware County lake. CBS 3. Philadelphia, PA. http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2013/07/17/man-makes-bizarre-catch-in-delaware-county-lake/. Created on 07/17/2013. Accessed on 08/19/2013.

Rockenstein, D. 2008. Fish with teeth, crazy catch. Lake Country Record-Bee. Lakeport, CA. http://www.record-bee.com/ci_11026531. Created on 11/19/2008. Accessed on 11/20/2008.

Roden, H. 2011. Spring man, fishing Lake Woodlands, may have caught South American pacu. The Conroe Courier. Conroe, TX. http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/courier/news/spring-man-fishing-lake-woodlands-may-have-caught-south-american/article_11d54231-b9d4-5e9a-b518-7e05e5830aa2.html. Created on 05/03/2011. Accessed on 08/21/2013.

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Rojas, S. 2012. Exotic catch no fish tale. San Angelo Standard-Times. San Angelo, TX. http://www.gosanangelo.com/news/2012/sep/14/fish-tale-could-be-a-misdemeanor/. Created on 09/14/2012. Accessed on 08/21/2013.

Ross, S.T. - University of Southern Mississippi, Museum of Ichthyology.

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Ruiz-Carus, R., and S.B. Davis. 2003. Register of an exceptionally large redbellied pacu, Piaractus brachypomus (Teleostei, Characidae), in East-Central Florida, with gonad and diet analyses. Florida Scientist 66(3):184-188.

Saunders, F. 2013. Man finds piranha relative in Maquoketa River. KCRG-TV9. Cedar Rapids, IA. http://www.kcrg.com/news/local/Man-Finds-Pi-211320741.html. Created on 06/12/2013. Accessed on 08/14/2013.

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Other Resources:
FishBase Summary

Author: Nico, L.G., Fuller, P.L., and Neilson, M.E.

Revision Date: 12/22/2020

Peer Review Date: 10/22/2013

Citation Information:
Nico, L.G., Fuller, P.L., and Neilson, M.E., 2024, 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: 12/22/2020, Peer Review Date: 10/22/2013, Access Date: 7/22/2024

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.


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. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [7/22/2024].

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For general information and questions about the database, contact Wesley Daniel. For problems and technical issues, contact Matthew Neilson.