Home | Aquarium Livestock | Observing Piranhas in the Wild (Not What You’ll See in Piranha 3D) Part 2

Observing Piranhas in the Wild (Not What You’ll See in Piranha 3D) Part 2

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  In Part 1 of this article I wrote about some of my experiences with Red-Bellied Piranhas in the wild, and examined some of the myths and realities surrounding their fearsome reputations. 

Bird-Eating Piranhas

Jabiru StorkPiranhas living near wading bird rookeries (colonial nesting areas) are often more aggressive than those dwelling in other habitats.  It seems that young birds frequently fall from their nests to the water below (the nests are usually located in trees growing in water), and Piranhas (and Spectacled Caiman) have learned to cash in.  Red-Bellied Piranhas living near rookeries are said to be particularly aggressive and will hit just anything that lands on the water’s surface. 

I spent several evenings watching a rookery in Venezuela’s western llanos region, thrilled by the near-unbelievable assemblage of Scarlet Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Jabiru Storks (please see photo) and other spectacular birds.  Despite the crowded conditions, I did not see any chicks jostled from the nest to the predator-filled waters below.   While monitoring Green Anaconda populations in the area, I came across the carcass of a 14-foot-long individual and took it to the rookery that evening.  I tossed it in the water and, sure enough, an explosion of spray and Piranhas erupted.  Unfortunately, I could not (or “would not”!) retrieve the carcass, but I have no doubt that it was skeletonized in short order.

Fishing and Collecting in Piranha Territory

Fish Caught in Seine NetRed-Bellied Piranhas are quite tasty and, at least in the dry season, easy to catch.  I actually fished with a bare hook, and reeled in a fat specimen on nearly every cast. 

Hauling a seine net in the fish and turtle packed waters the Red-Bellies inhabited was incredible – we came up with a host of interesting animals, including Elongate Piranhas, Serrasalmus elongatus, and Knifefishes (please see photos).

Another Fish with a Taste for Birds

The Piranhas I’ve kept in aquariums have varied in aggressiveness; actually, most paled in comparison to a Northern Snakehead that was under my care for years – this brute swallowed a Parakeet that escaped and landed in his tank!

Further Reading

Piranhas share their habitat with many other aggressive beasts – please check this article on my run-in with an ill-tempered Tegu.

Please see our series of articles on Piranha care and behavior-Piranha, Fish of Myth and Mystery.

Please write in with your questions and comments. 


Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio


About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.