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.

Pygocentrus nattereri
Pygocentrus nattereri
(red piranha)

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Pygocentrus nattereri Kner, 1858

Common name: red piranha

Synonyms and Other Names: Pygocentrus altus Gill 1870, Serrasalmo ternetzi Steindachner 1908, Serrasalmus nattereri (Kner 1858); red-bellied piranha.

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Some United States specimens misidentified as members of this species may actually have been closely related species, the Orinoco piranha (Pygocentrus notatus). Pacus (Colossoma and Piaractus) also have been misidentified frequently as piranhas but may be distinguished by the shape of the teeth (sharp, incisor-like in piranhas vs. molariform in pacus). Fink (1993) reviewed the genus Pygocentrus and provided a key and photographs.

Size: 32 cm SL.

Native Range: Tropical America. Widely distributed in lowland areas of central and southern South America east of the Andes, including the Amazon and Parana basins and various coastal drainages of the Guianas and Brazil (Fink 1993).

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 Pygocentrus nattereri are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
FL197420091Florida Southeast Coast
KS200320031Lower Kansas, Kansas
MA198119853Merrimack River; Narragansett; Nashua River
MI197720002Huron; Lake St. Clair
MN199320012Lower Minnesota; Twin Cities
NE199920001Lower North Platte
OK199319931Lower Cimarron
PA198420161Lower Allegheny
TX198220112Cibolo; West Galveston Bay

Table last updated 6/14/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: Pygocentrus nattereri is a schooling predator that consumes live fishes whole or by removing portions of fin, scales, or muscle. It also feeds on crustaceans, insects, molluscs, and plant material (Sazima and Machado 1990). Additionally, this species is known to scavenge, feeding on dead and/or decaying fishes, birds, mammals, and occasionally human corpses (Sazima and Guimarães 1987; Sazima and Machado 1990).

Spawning season occurs between approximately October to February and is associated with changes in environmental cues including photoperiod and/or rainfall (Duponchelle et al. 2007; Queiroz et al. 2010). Spawning occurs in small nests dug within grasses or other marginal vegetation (Uetanabaro et al 1993; Queiroz et al. 2010)

Bennett et al. (1997) estimated a chronic thermal minimum of 10°C.

Means of Introduction: Probable aquarium releases.

Status: Failed in all states.

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 the most common piranha in the aquarium trade. Although P. nattereri is considered one of the more aggressive piranha species, many experts consider its danger to humans to be greatly exaggerated and its reputation as a man-eater may be derived from scavenging on human corpses (Sazima and Guimarães 1987). Nevertheless, considerable care must be taken in handling live individuals. Import is prohibited in many southern states (e.g., Florida and Texas). Single or multiple P. nattereri have been found in ponds, lakes, rivers, and borrow pits. In northern states, reports are typically of fish taken by hook and line during the summer or found dead during the cooler months. The reaction by some state agencies has been to rotenone the entire waterbody in which the piranha was taken. This fish has small chance of surviving cold periods. A fish taken from the Elk River, Alabama, previously reported in a newspaper account as a red piranha (Middleton 1988), has been shown to be the pacu, Piaractus brachypomus (museum specimen). The piranha taken from Duban Lake, Minnesota, was originally misidentified by local biologists as being a pacu. Reports of piranhas taken from the Tamiami Canal in south Florida during the period 1969-1979 were unconfirmed (Courtenay and Hensley 1979), and none were taken there by Loftus and Kushlan (1987) and subsequent collectors.

Voucher specimens: California (LACM 44523.001), Florida (UF 97062), Hawaii (UMMZ 220369), Massachusetts (MCZ 57904, NUVC uncatalogued), Minnesota (UF 98887; JFBM 30193), Oklahoma (UF 96188), Texas (uncatalogued, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department), and Virginia (uncatalogued, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Beach).

References: (click for full references)

Bennett, W.A., R.J. Currie, P.F. Wagner, and T.L. Beitinger. 1997. Cold tolerance and potential overwintering of the red-bellied piranha Pygocentrus nattereri in the United States. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 126:841-849.

Cardoza, J.E., G.S. Jones, T.W. French, and D.B. Halliwell. 1993. Exotic and translocated vertebrates of Massachusetts, 2nd edition. Fauna of Massachusetts Series 6. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Publication 17223-110-200-11/93-C.R, Westborough, MA.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr. - Florida Atlantic University (retired), 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.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.

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 names and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. 5th edition. American Fisheries Society. Bethesda, MD.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1990. The introduced fish problem and the aquarium fish industry. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 21(3):145-159.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., H.F. Sahlman, W.W. Miley, II, and D.J. Herrema. 1974. Exotic fishes in fresh and brackish waters of Florida. Biological Conservation 6(4):292-302.

Cudmore-Vokey, B. and E.J. Crossman. 2000. Checklists of the fish fauna of the Laurentian Great Lakes and their connecting channels. Can. MS Rpt. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2500: v + 39p.

Devick, W.S. - Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Devick, W.S. 1992. The great piranha hunt. Hawaii Fishing News 17(10)6-7.

Duponchelle, F., F. Lino, N. Hubert, J. Panfili, J.-F. Renno, E. Baras, J.P. Torrico, R. Dugue, and J. Nuñez. 2007. Environment-related life-history trait variations of the red-bellied piranha Pygocentrus nattereri in two river basins of the Bolivian Amazon. Journal of Fish Biology 71:1113-1134.

Fink, W.L. 1993. Revision of the piranha genus Pygocentrus (Teleostei, Characiformes). Copeia 1993(3):665-687.

Hartel, K. 1992. Non-native fishes known from Massachusetts freshwaters. Occasional Reports of the Museum of Comparative Zoology Fish Department 2:1-9.

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.

Latta, W.C. - Fisheries Scientist Emeritus, Michigan DNR. Response to NBS-G nonindigenous questionaire. 1992.

Loftus, W.F., and J.A. Kushlan. 1987. Freshwater fishes of southern Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum of Biological Science 31(4):147-344.

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

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

Queiroz, H.L., M.B. Sobanski, and A.E. Magurran. 2010. Reproductive strategies of red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri Kner, 1858) in the white waters of the Mamirauá flooded forest, central Brazilian Amazon. Environmental Biology of Fishes 89:11-19.

Radtke, R.L. 1995. Forensic biological pursuits of exotic fish origins: piranha in Hawaii. Environmental Biology of Fishes 43:393-399.

Sazima, I. and S. de Andrade Guimarães. 1987. Scavenging on human corpses as a source for stories about man-eating piranhas. Environmental Biology of Fishes 20(1):75-77.

Sazima, I., and F.A. Machado. 1990. Underwater observations of piranhas in western Brazil. Environmental Biology of Fishes 28:17-31.

Schainost, S. - Rivers and Streams Program, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, NE.

Stone, S. 1987. 6-inch prianha found in pit at Indian Lakes. Virginia Pilot and Ledger Star, 23 August 1987.

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

Uetanabaro, M., T. Wang, and A.S. Abe. 1993. Breeding behaviour of the red-bellied piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri, in nature. Environmental Biology of Fishes 38:369-371.

FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 7/24/2013

Peer Review Date: 7/24/2013

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson, 2024, Pygocentrus nattereri Kner, 1858: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=429, Revision Date: 7/24/2013, Peer Review Date: 7/24/2013, Access Date: 6/14/2024

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.


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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [6/14/2024].

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