You Are At: AllSands Home > Science > Animals > Information on Piranhas
Piranhas and their relatives belong to the characid subfamily Serrasalminae. The group consists of two parts: The first, a series of 7 genera and perhaps 60 species, which mainly eat plants. One of these, the Amazonian tombaqui Colossoma macropomum reaches 1 meter in length and is an excellent food fish; the second group consist of the piranhas and their relatives with 6 genera, some of which are flesh-eaters and some herbivorous.

Most people think of piranhas as traveling in schools and eating any living creature in their path. However many of the species eat aquatic plants, especially seeds, and fishes. It is true that certain species can be sometimes dangerous to humans or livestock. For example, the common red-bellied piranha Pygocentrus nattereri of the Amazon Basin may undergo a feeding frenzy when it comes across a bleeding animal, reducing it to skeleton in just a few minutes. The species seems not ordinarily dangerous and collectors have swum in water occupied by them without harm. However, care and caution are advised, as they will protect their spawning sites.

The American characins, family Characidea, occur in the Americas. They are common in nearly all the fresh waters of South and Central America. Many are small, commonly 5 to 10 centimeters long. And their relatives brycons are omnivorous fishes that are found over the range of the family with some species also reaching 60 centimeters or more in length. They are used locally as food especially in the Amazon and Orinoco basins.

All in all, the danger of attack from piranhas such as the red-bellied piranha is usually greatly exaggerated. When incited in the feeding frenzy, however, their short powerful jaws and sharp interlocking teeth enable them to remove flesh in clean bites from the injured prey.