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20 Little Known Piranha Facts

by Sankalan Baidya
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Piranha facts

In our last article on piranha facts, we told you how the piranhas got their fame of human killers but we also told you how they are not at all what they are portrayed to be. In this instalment of piranha facts, we will cover some of the most interesting and little known facts about these unfortunate fish who have been victims of Hollywood’s imagination. So, let us being with our list of 20 little known piranha facts. You ready?

Little Known Piranha Facts: 1-10

1. Believe it or not, piranhas do feast on mammals. Not the big ones though. They do eat up small mammals. You may often come across video footages of piranhas killing capybaras. However, you need to know that just as in case with humans, piranhas will feast on mammals on if they are already dead or are dying.

2. Piranhas are usually known for eating other fish, insects, carrion, crustaceans, etc. They even feed on plant parts and seeds, making them omnivores. There are some piranhas that are purely veggies and they don’t even think of meat. One such species is Tometes camunani found in Para, Brazil’s Amazonian rapids of Trombetas basin. This species lives on riverweed.

3. There is another species known as Catoprion mento or simply known as wimple piranhas that are known for feasting on fish scales. Why so? That’s because the scales have a layer of protein mucus, which is very nutritious.

4. Here is one of the most surprising piranha facts – they can become cannibals depending on the scarcity of the food resources. They might just bite off a piece of flesh from the bodies of their brothers and sisters, either alive or dead if the food sources become scarce.

5. Scientists wondered exactly how the piranhas attacked their prey, especially other fish. In order to find out a laboratory test was conducted in 1972 where a goldfish was put among the carnivores. It turned out the red-bellied piranhas attacked the tail and eyes of the goldfish. Eventually, the scientists came to a conclusion that by taking the tail-and-eye attack strategy, piranhas effectively immobilize their prey and then feast!

6. For some odd reason, red-bellied piranhas have been a subject of greater number of studies than other species. One such research led the scientists to a conclusion that the red-bellied piranhas are known for making bark-like sounds. Belgian scientists investigated further and found that they actually make 3 different types of sounds.

7. The first type of sound is the bark-like sound. These are actually quick calls that are meant for warning other fish that messing with them will not give good end results.

8. The second type of sounds are thud sounds or low grunts which are made when they piranhas fight or circle other fish. These sounds are more like direct threats.

9. The final sound comes from gnashing of teeth when the piranhas actually start chasing other fish. This is like, ‘I will kill you now’ – super angry, you know!

10. The first two types of vocalizations are outputs of an organ that contains gas. This organ, known as the swimbladder, is responsible for keeping the piranhas afloat. The muscles of the organ are contracted and relaxed for emitting sounds of different frequencies.

Little Known Piranha Facts: 11-20

11. Piranhas aren’t really that brave you know. They travel in packs which gives an impression that they are displaying their strength. The opposite is true. They are actually scared and moving in pack gives them safety. This behavior is predominant in red-bellied piranhas.

12. Scientists have found that in a piranha shoal older and larger fish are present towards the middle while the smaller and younger ones form the outer edges. This move is a classic safety maneuver.

13. The reason why they actually swim in groups is that they aren’t apex predators in water. They actually are preys of others like river dolphins, birds and caimans and even other pescatarian fish that are larger in size. Moving in shoals gives piranhas a safety net also displays that they can take on larger predators because of their sheer numbers.

14. Again the red-bellied piranhas became a subject of study in captivity. It was found that when they were exposed to stimulated predatory threats, they had more calm response and they breathed easily when they were in shoals.

15. Large shoal formations of piranhas in shallow water is pretty common. This is because shallow waters make them more vulnerable.

16. Piranhas, especially the red-bellied and the black piranhas, can get aggressive. However, they will not really do anything unless they are themselves threatened or humans manage to threaten their eggs. They will simply leave humans unharmed unless they are really threatened or they are really hungry because of scarcity of food.

17. When it comes to biting humans, the fishermen are the ones that become most victims. This happens when they try to get rid of piranhas from fishing nets or hooks. In such situations, piranhas tend to bite just once and that too, they usually target feet and toes.

18. Piranhas have this uncanny attraction towards blood, water splashing and noise. They can actually sniff a single blood drop in 200 liters of water. So if you are bleeding, it is better to stay away from piranha-infested waters.

19. When it comes to sound or noise, what really happens is that they are accustomed to slashing sound created by fruits or seeds that fall in water from trees. They come hunting for those dropped manna for their survival. So, sitting on a river bank and splashing the piranha-infested water is not a good idea either.

20. Of course, we have this pretty bad image of piranhas but did you know that even humans eat piranhas? For instance, in Brazil there is a region known as Pantanal. People of that region are really fond of piranha soup. There are many other places where piranhas grilled on banana leaves and served with lime and tomatoes is a delicacy!

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