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Piranha Keeping for Beginners – The Basics

Piranha Keeping for Beginners – The Basics

Thinking of getting into piranha keeping? We get it. A school of these red-bellied, silver-shimmering carnivores with their intense reputation is quite a sight to see. Just keep in mind that these fish are more than flesh eating predators, and they have special requirements like any species.
Keep reading for all the basics you need to be aware of if you want to keep the ‘fearsome’ red-bellied piranha in your own aquarium.

Piranha reputation

Are red-bellied piranhas (Pygocentrus nattereri) really the voracious predators they’re made out to be? This species attracts the attention of many aquarists who like the idea of keeping a dangerous fish species, not realizing that much of the piranha’s reputation is sensationalized.

While piranhas are carnivores that will certainly react intensely to food in states of extreme hunger, they usually go for easy prey such as weak fish or animals that have already deceased. Situations where they ‘strip live animals’ bones of flesh within minutes’ are almost always the result of human intervention and don’t occur naturally.

Piranha aquarium

Because of their reputation, piranhas are an easy impulse buy for those who just want to own a ‘cool’ fish. Unfortunately, this often results in improper care and bad housing, as piranhas are actually not too easy to keep and need a lot of space.

If you’re interested in keeping piranhas, you’ll have to make room for a very large aquarium. These fish naturally reach a size of up to 12” and should be kept in groups. Although some sources mention a minimum tank size as small as 55 gallons, you’ll actually realistically be looking at something of 200 gallons or preferably more. A small aquarium results in stunted growth and miserable fish.

Decor is not much of a concern, although anything you choose should be sturdy. Live plants will often be eaten or destroyed eventually, so you could consider faux ones if you still want some green in your piranha set-up. We prefer our piranha tanks with only piranhas, because although adults aren’t particularly voracious tankmates are still at risk of being damaged.

Because piranhas are incredibly messy eaters, you’ll have to pay attention to proper filtration in order to prevent water quality issues. Overfiltration is a must; most piranha keepers prefer to run multiple canister filters or other powerful filter types on their tank to keep their water values in check.

Piranha care

Once you’ve got your aquarium all set you can move on to buying your red bellies (we’re assuming you know the basics of fishkeeping if you’re interested in such a challenging species, so we won’t get into stuff like cycling here). Keep in mind that most are sold as juveniles which is convenient for sellers but difficult for buyers, as raising these fish is quite a lot of work and cannibalism is not uncommon among young piranhas. Be sure to get at least six fish, as they form complex social structures.

It’s easy to assume that a carnivorous species such as the red-bellied piranha will need to eat live feeders or animal meat, but this is not the case. To prevent the possibility of parasites or feeding the wrong nutrients, you’re better off offering a diet of frozen foods, tropical fish pellets, (live) insects and even nuts and fruits. Variety is key, so be sure to rotate foods regularly.

In addition to heavy filtration, piranhas’ messy eating habits make large weekly water changes necessary. At least 30% weekly is probably a good idea.

All play, no work

As can be concluded from the article above, the red-bellied piranha is a fascinating species that is rightfully coveted by many an aquarist. However, setting up and maintaining a such a large tank can be quite a challenge. If you’re interested in keeping this fish but want as little hassle as possible, FantaSEA Aquariums can help you out. We’ll set up and maintain your piranha aquarium so all you have to do is enjoy the sight. Interested? You can request a quote here.