A Complete Guide to Caring for Your Piranha

Written by Ricky

Many are intrigued by the idea of owning and taking care of Piranhas, and for good reason. They are fascinating creatures! While they can be aggressive and have extremely sharp teeth (Piranha actually translates to mean “toothfish” in Brazilian,) they are mostly docile and harmless when domesticated. But how do take care of a piranha?

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Piranhas thrive best on a diet of protein and vegetation and can live up to fifteen years in warm, freshwater aquariums that are at least 100 gallons. Not all Piranhas are legal, but it’s best to adopt the red-bellied type. They are relatively the most affordable, docile, and easiest to maintain.

It’s important to note, though, that these fish are not legal throughout the United States. This is because the government doesn’t want them to overrun natural waters. So, be sure to check your state laws before attempting to purchase any piranhas.

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A Piranha’s Tank

Piranhas require a lot of room, so owning a group of them is a task for committed fish owners only. While baby piranhas can temporarily be kept in tanks as small as 20 gallons, in order to grow into adulthood they will need at least 100 gallons or more, depending on how many you want to keep together.

Piranhas will grow at a considerably fast rate, maturing up to 24 inches, and growing around 7 inches in their first six months and then an inch every year after that. Fish owners who are used to smaller fish will find this growth rate hard to keep up with.

In terms of décor, it’s extremely important that piranha tanks not include LED lighting. Piranhas do NOT thrive in well-lit tanks.

Instead, you can add in silk or fabric plants that won’t scratch your piranha and become a natural hiding spot made out of materials like spider wood (which is just the roots of a tree.) Just boil the spider wood to get rid of any bacteria and place it in an area that allows for full protection for your piranha.

Piranhas can become pretty skittish when it comes to humans or even other fish. As juveniles, they should be kept in large groups as they are schooler fish and learn best that way.

However, as they grow up, they like to be a little more solitary to prepare for mating season.

Be sure to put at least four of them together (of the same size) so that they can form a group bond. To further protect against bullying and cannibalism, keep five or more together. It’s also a great idea to keep them with small, peaceful fish like neon tetras and guppies as long as they are well fed. If they get hungry, they may attempt eating their smaller friends.

It’s also not uncommon for pet owners to keep their piranhas outside, in a more natural environment. To see more about how to keep them outside, watch the video below:

Outdoor setups require a lot of work, so make sure you are prepared. Continue to read on to make sure you know how to create the right environment (temp and pH balance) for your piranha.

A Piranha’s Water

A piranhas environment is extremely important to their overall wellbeing. It’s best to note that piranhas are naturally accustomed to the calm and dark, murky waters of the Amazon, so recreating that atmosphere in your tank will help them to stay healthy and happy.

A great way of mimicking the Amazon river is to avoid strong lighting, and use almond leaves to release tannins that lower the PH balance in the tank and fight bacteria. Simply just buy the almond leaves from a reliable source that cleans them properly, drop one in and let it float to the bottom, and then change them out every 3-4 weeks.

It is also good to note that almond leaves can simulate the rainy season in the Amazon, which is when piranhas are known to mate. So if you don’t want any surprises, be sure not to keep male and female piranhas in the same tank.

In terms of temperature, piranhas thrive best in 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit water with a pH balance of 5.5-8.0.

Using warm tap water is totally okay as long as you use several filters to clean it before putting it into the tank. You’ll need a heater and a thermometer to accurately measure how warm the water is at all times. Keeping them too hot or too cold can seriously damage their immune systems, making it a lot more likely they will get sick.

A Piranha’s Diet

One of the scariest things about piranhas to someone who knows nothing about them can be their diet. While red bellies are omnivores or carnivores, they aren’t out for human flesh as popular opinion would have you believe. Some breeds are even vegetarian, mostly feeding on seeds and natural vegetation.

Not unlike other wild animals, piranhas are very territorial, so it’s best not to mess around with them too much or you might get a finger bit. This is especially true if they are hungry or are trying to protect their eggs.

The most popular types of piranhas to own are the Red Belly, the Black, and the Ruby Red variety.

All are pretty similar in that they need a diet consisting of a mixture of protein like smaller fish, insects, and even worms or snails, with plants, fruits, nuts, and even seeds.

From an expert’s point of view, it’s best to feed them frozen protein that will keep for a long time and give your piranha the most amount of natural nutrition possible. That mixed with a diet of fresh fruit, or greens such as zucchini, spinach, or raw potato will keep them satiated.

Please do note, however, that it’s best not to feed your piranha any goldfish or other feeder fish, as they can easily transfer disease.

This means that if other fish in your collection don’t make it, it’s best to dispose of them in other ways, and not by throwing them into your piranha tank.

Piranhas can be dangerous when it comes to feeding time, though, (they aren’t notorious for nothing.) They are known for taking a few chunks out of whatever surrounds them when they know food is near, whether that be the fins of your other fish or even your fingers.

Use a protective holder to drop in food in order to keep your fingers safe from any feeding frenzies.

Another great tip is to not feed them too much at one time, as it can seriously pollute the tank. One-a-day feedings should work fine, and along with a weekly 10-15% water change along with the filter changes needed, your piranhas should have healthy diets and immune systems.

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A Piranha’s Health and Breeding

To keep your piranhas safe from diseases such as dropsy or mouth rot, which are both bacterial infections, or skin flukes, parasitic infestation, or even ichthyobodo infection, you need to keep them as stress-free as possible, and their environment as clean as possible.

Just as with humans, if you give them unclean food to eat, a dirty room to live in, and little social interaction, they aren’t going to do well.

Piranhas can live up to fifteen years in a healthy environment. This leaves them lots of time for breeding, which is something only experienced piranha owners should allow to happen. If you have the resources, though, and want some baby piranhas to show off, there are a few tricks to getting there:

First off, you will need to have a group of about five piranhas or more.

Secondly, you need to make the environment just right, which includes changing the pH balance to mimic the rainy season in the Amazon. When the male and females darken their color but have just a speckle of scales that sparkle, it’s time to raise the temperature as high as 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Females will then lay several thousand eggs near water plants, which the eggs will stick to. After that, the males will fertilize the eggs. It only takes around two to three days for those eggs to hatch, at which point the baby piranhas will hide in the plants for their own protection.

As previously mentioned, it’s best to keep the babies together, as they are schooling fish, until they reach a mature enough age to be separated into smaller groups. This is true for red-bellied piranhas, though other breeds can differ.

If you’re just starting out owning fish, get used to taking care of the easier breeds, and then move up to piranhas.

Ten red-bellied piranhas cost around $80 (with a fully grown fish costing up to $500) and tank setups that can be around $800 and monthly food costs of up to $25 a month, piranhas aren’t the cheapest fish to own.

Depending on where you live, you might also have to purchase a permit.

That being said, Piranhas can be a LOT of fun to raise and breed as a fish owner and collector (not to mention a great conversation starter.) As with most fish raised in captivity, they require a lot of attention from their owner in allowing them a healthy lifestyle, environment, and diet. While you may get snapped at once or twice without the proper precautions, piranhas are generally pretty easygoing and easy to care for.

If you like the article above, here are some other similar articles you should check out!

Piranha Care: Lifespan, Tank Mates, Diet, and Health

Are Aquarium Plant weights safe for the fish?

Where does Aquarium Driftwood come from?

About the author

Ricky