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Gregory R. Mann, Ph.D. {ret.}

Black Piranha

“Serrasalmus rhombeus”

The Black Piranha is widespread in nature although the true extent of its range is an issue for debate. Officially it’s been recorded from Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil in various rivers including the Amazon, Orinoco, Negro, Xingú and Araguia. However there is evidence to suggest that it may be confined to Guyana with collections at other localities perhaps comprising other species. The fish is also known as the Redeye Piranha. The name Piranha means “saw, sawed or serrated”. Out-sized jaw muscles allow the Black Piranha to exert bite force equivalent to 30 times its body-weight, a feat unmatched in the natural world. The muscle complex makes more than 2% of the Black Piranha’s total body mass. Other animals like the Great White Shark, the Hyena and the American Alligator can deliver more forceful bites, but their crunching power becomes much less impressive when viewed in relation to their overall size and weight. In fact, relative to their size, Black Piranhas outperform even prehistoric monsters like Tyrannosaurus Rex & Megalodon.

The Black Piranha inhabits a range of biotopes but as an adult is particularly associated with larger, deeper river channels where it’s typically found hunting in deep water or near rapids. Juveniles are most often collected in quieter areas with dense submerged or marginal vegetation. Interestingly, the Black Piranha tend to vary in color depending on the type of water at a given locality with those collected from turbid white waters tending to be much paler than forms occurring in clear or black water habitats. Black Piranhas are opportunistic, feeding on the fins and flesh of other species as well as smaller fishes, insects and crustaceans. They have also been recorded scavenging the carcasses of dead animals including humans although reports of this Black Piranhas attacking live people are mostly attributed to increased aggression during the breeding season. Some Black Piranhas have been shown to eat nuts, fruits, seeds and small amounts of plant material have been found in the gut during laboratory analyses. No external sexual differences between the sexes have been recorded although females in spawning condition are usually plumper than males.

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