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20 Interesting Piranha Facts

Before we begin with our list of 20 piranha facts, we need to tell you something – they aren’t human killers. Hollywood has, from time to time, sent wrong information about many things around us and piranhas are just one of the victims. The not so darling reputation of the piranhas, is a result of Hollywood’s misrepresentation of the true self of this omnivore fish. Remember that ‘piranhas are people killers’ is nothing but a legend manufactured by a handful of people. So, let us waste time no further and begin with our list. You ready?

Interesting Piranha Facts: 1-10

1. One of the primary reasons why piranhas have acquired their epic fearsome reputation is Hollywood but you know what? You can partially blame Theodore Roosevelt for this.

2. In 1913, Roosevelt went to South America. There he saw quite a number of exotic species of animals and birds. He even saw piranhas. He came back and wrote a book – Through the Brazilian Wilderness. The book turned out to be bestseller. It is this book where he described piranhas and gave them a seriously bad reputation. Want to read his description? Here it is:

“They are the most ferocious fish in the world. Even the most formidable fish, the sharks or the barracudas, usually attack things smaller than themselves. But the piranhas habitually attack things much larger than themselves. They will snap a finger off a hand incautiously trailed in the water; they mutilate swimmers—in every river town in Paraguay there are men who have been thus mutilated; they will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast; for blood in the water excites them to madness. They will tear wounded wild fowl to pieces; and bite off the tails of big fish as they grow exhausted when fighting after being hooked.”

3. In his book Roosevelt actually recounted how he saw the piranhas devoured a cow. However, it so happened that the locals there captured several piranhas from river and placed them in a tank and left them unfed. When Roosevelt went there, in order to put up a show the locals dropped a dead cow into the river and then all the hungry piranhas were released in the river. No wonder, the carnivore piranhas feasted on the carcass. – Source.

4. Piranhas are pretty common in South America. From Venezuela’s Orinoco River Basin to Argentina’s Parana River, there are 30 different species of piranhas that live in South America.

5. Scientists have dug up fossil evidences of piranhas in South America and dated them as old as 25 million years. However, the fossils that have been recovered widely deviate from the genera that are present today. The present genera are estimated to be just 1.8 million years in survival timeline – still older than humans (as per modern accepted timeline of human existence).

6. A study was conducted back in 2007. In the study it was concluded that the modern genera of South American piranhas diverged from their ancestors some 9 million years ago. Some 5 million years ago, the Atlantic Ocean decided to rise and expand into the flood plains of rivers flowing through South America (including the Amazon).

7. As the Atlantic rose, salt water made it to the inroads of the river plains, making it difficult for freshwater fish to thrive, forcing them to escape to higher altitudes. Well, this led the scientists to conduct genetic analysis of piranhas and they found that those genera that live above 100 meters in Amazon have been calling the place their home for just 3 million years.

8. South America isn’t the only place where you can find piranhas. They can be found roan in waterways of China, Great Britain and even Texas etc. There is a teeny tiny problem here. Piranhas aren’t indigenous to aforementioned places. They are a result of aquarium-to-natural-water-bodies transfer.

9. What does that mean? It simply means that there are people in this world who have this pet-attraction towards piranhas and adorn their aquariums with these fish. Eventually, the fish become large enough stay confined in the glass room filled with water. That’s when the owners dump them in local water bodies. One problem! Piranhas are invasive by nature and the pet lovers simply don’t get that! All they know is that keeping a piranha is legal.

10. Did you know that there used to be a language known as Tupi? The classical or old Tupi language is an extinct language that was used in Brazil. Piranha in classical Tupi actually means tooth fish.

Interesting Piranha Facts: 11-20

11. The question is, ‘why did we turn our focus on the name?’ That’s because tooth fish has very interesting teeth that are responsible for relentless biting and also each tooth of the piranha is razor-sharp.

12. Interlocking single row of teeth lined up along the jaw among adult piranhas look like blades and are perfect for the meaty diet they usually thrive on.

13. True piranhas can be easily identified with their tricuspid teeth. The crown or the middle cuspid is way more pronounced than the remaining two. The crown is nearly 4 millimeters tall.

14. The enamel found on teeth of piranhas is similar to enamel that is found on teeth of sharks. One interesting thing about piranhas is that they keep losing their teeth all throughout their life. However, the teeth also get replaced in quarters. It is not unlikely to see a piranha which has half of its teeth missing on lower jaw.

15. Try and ignore fiction movies on piranhas. They are not at all true. However, these fish do have some extraordinary bite force. Just how much force? This force was calculated in a scientific study and later published in journal Scientific Reports.

16. In the aforementioned study that was conducted back in 2012, the species known as Serrasalmus rhombeus was studied. The species in question is either red-eyed or black-eyed and is known to be largest of all piranha species of modern times. It was found that they can bite with a force which is thrice their own body weight. The maximum force they can exert is 72 pounds. Doesn’t sound much? Well, the piranhas aren’t big either!

17. However, if you are not really satisfied with modern species, travel back 10 million years and meet Megapiranha paranensis. That’s an extinct ancestor of modern day piranhas and members of the species actually grew up to 22 pounds of 10 kilos in weight. That’s pretty big. Fellows of that species exerted a force of 1,068 pounds, which is about 50 times their own body weight! Guess what? That force came from the tip of the jaws!

18. Just to put in perspective, Tyrannosaurs Rex had 3 times the bite force of Megapiranha paranensis and T. Rex was far bigger than the ancient piranha species in question. So, how did the scientists know this? They managed to get a fossil sample of jaws of Megapiranha and conducted a bite force test.

19. If you are not already dead or if you are not dying, you are actually safe if you are facing piranhas. Piranhas won’t eat you if you are healthy and alive and happily swimming among them. All that you see in movies is myth.

20. According to experts, it will take around 300 to 500 piranhas to strip off all flesh from a human weighing 180 pounds in just 5 minutes. While there are examples of dead bodies found with piranha bites, the only problem was that the person was drowned and dead before becoming piranha meal – but that too just a few nibbles.