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FAQs on the Piranhas: Foods/Feeding/Nutrition

Related Articles: Piranhas, Serrasalmine Fishes, Characoids/Tetras & Relatives Feeding Feeder Goldfish,

Related FAQs:  Piranhas 1, Piranhas 2, & FAQs on: Piranha Identification, Piranha Behavior, Piranha Compatibility, Piranha Selection, Piranha Systems, Piranha Health, Piranha Reproduction, & Piranhas and Relatives, Feeding "Feeder" Goldfish, Pacus, Silver Dollars,


Red Belly Piranha    6/5/16
Hello Wet Web Media crew! It has been a while since I have last needed your wisdom. Last December I purchased 7 baby red belly piranha and housed them in my 125 gallon aquarium. The once tiny timid piranha are now a boisterous
group of 5 inch long pigs, and I feel like it's time to start moving them on to larger foods. Up until now they have been getting pellet food and there is a population of guppies in the aquarium that get picked off as they grow. What are the best already prepared/ "traditional" fish foods to use?
<Please read here:
Important to mention NOT over-feeding... Serrasalmids will eat, feed almost as much as offered... NOT good for them>
After skimming the faq's I plan on getting some krill, I was just wondering about some other things. And I also was planning on getting some foods from the deli area of the supermarket, are there any types of seafood that are more/less recommended?
<Whole fish... less fatty>
Also after reading the faq's and the main article regarding piranhas, I did see that it is recommended to get them some fruit/vegetable matter in the diet, is there any viable way to do that?
<Best through prepared foods>
Thank you guys for any input you have!
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Question about feeding... SW product for piranha?     2/24/14
I accidentally bought saltwater fish frozen carnivore cuisine high protein diet food and I have freshwater piranha. Can I feed this to my piranha ?
<Ah yes; of a surety. Bob Fenner>

Piranha Health, Feeding, Behaviour - 10/18/2012
Hi, my name is John and I have a red belly piranha and I was reading and noticed it was a really bad idea to put feeder fish in there so I'm going to take them out.
<Very good move.  He will do much, much better eating meaty prepared dry and frozen foods.>
But I was wondering if it was too late for my fish friend. He is acting weird, he keeps swimming into my glass and stays on it for awhile looks like he is chasing himself or kissing it.
<This could just be normal behaviour, chasing/biting his reflection.... 
Without clear details about your tank (size, water quality, etc.), it's hard for us to know from a distance.>
He also will swim sideways and rub his side on the gravel.  Not sure why he does this.
<This could be bad news.  Test your water for Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, and pH.  Ammonia and Nitrite must be ZERO, and Nitrate less than 20ppm.  If there is any Ammonia or Nitrite at all, or Nitrate is higher than 20ppm, do water changes to correct the problem.  If you can't test your water right away, then do a nice big water change anyway, just make sure that you dechlorinate, and try to match temperature and pH.  Piranha are pretty resilient, but do prefer soft water with a slightly lower than neutral pH if possible.>
Just trying to figure out why he does this all day then sits under my filter for a couple hours then he'll be at it again.
<As above, check your tank's water - or if you don't have test kits, ask your local fish store to test it for you and to show you the results.  As to why he just sits around under your filter, make sure your tank is suitably large for this very big, active species.  Also bear in mind that, although piranha are very aggressive, they are a schooling fish.  Without more of his own species to hang out with (and a VERY large tank to house him and his buddies), he's not going to act normally.  The flashing (turning on his side and scraping on the gravel) is disconcerting though, and suggests either a water quality problem or possibly a parasite or other problem brought in with the feeder fish.  Watch him closely for any abnormalities, especially signs of "Ick" (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis), a parasite which will show up as little white specks on the fish, and is often brought in by feeder fish.  Also, keep reading, on WWM and elsewhere, about piranha care, behavior, and disease.  Your pet is sure to thank you for informing yourself about him, and you'll enjoy learning more about this wonderful, toothy Serrasalminid.  Wishing you and your fishy pal well, 
Tyvm really appreciate it
<Glad to help.  Do keep reading, learning, and enjoying your fish. 

Sick red bellies    9/13/10
Hello I have a Red Belly in a tank with 6 others, (120 G) and just recently he formed a long stringy feces coming from him,
<Can happen simply as a result of diet, but Hexamita infections also cause these symptoms.>
he is still eating very well and the others are not picking on him, I do feed them deer meat with a garlic extract and keep the tank at about 24.
<I wouldn't feed this fish deer meat. Any particular reason for choosing this? Let's recap: the basic diet of Red Bellied Piranhas in the wild is fish, invertebrates, fruits, and seeds. Mammal meat is an occasional "treat" rather than a staple, despite what Hollywood might suggest. I find it ironic that many piranha-keepers become obsessive about feeding their piranhas mammal meat in completely non-natural amounts, while totally ignoring the fact their piranhas also eat fruits and seeds! Reveals the lie in all this nonsense about giving them feeder goldfish "because it's what happens in the wild"; if they wanted to keep their piranhas naturally, why aren't they offering fruits and seeds? Anyway, my point here is that if your piranha is producing unusual faeces, there's a good chance it's diet
isn't right. Obviously you should never, ever use feeder fish unless bred at home, and even then, never cyprinids (Goldfish, Minnows, etc) and only ever livebearers, killifish or cichlids. If you've ever used feeder fish from the store, then all bets are off, and frankly, there's a good chance you've infected your piranha with something difficult to diagnose and/or incurable. Over here in England feeder goldfish aren't even available, so it's a non-issue, but our friends in the United States still persist with this idiotic and dangerous practise. Next up, reduce the amounts of mammal and bird meat. Warm-blooded animals contain oils that fish have difficulty digesting. In the cold bodies of fish there's a risk those oils congeal inside the gut or elsewhere. Instead concentrate on thiaminase-free fish, for example tilapia. Whole, unshelled shrimp is also useful as a source of indigestible material that helps to clear blockages from the gut, but shrimp contains thiaminase and has to be used in moderation. In terms of
vegetable foods, cooked peas are excellent if your piranhas will take them.
Otherwise some success has been had offering things like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds to piranhas. They may need to be motivated by a few days of starvation, but rest assured, such foods are a natural, perhaps
essential, part of their diet. Obviously if you can get your fish onto pellet foods, then such foods generally provide a nutritious staple around which other fresh and plant-based foods can be added.>
the water is changed every 3 to 4 days, about 10 to 20 %, all my levels are great and other than this there seems to be no problems is it a parasite.
I can not find anything reliable online, and my local pet stores are not sure what to treat for, one says parasites the next says something else.<Doesn't sound like a parasitic infection just yet. Would keep an open mind for now.>
Could you help I really enjoy my little buddies.
Thanks Travis
<Hope this helps. Cheers, Neale.>

Piranha Do you know how to make their bellied more in red colour? Also, How can I keep them healthy and in good condition? Thank you <A few things will help here... frequent, partial water changes... keeping the water slightly acidic and as soft as you can... and feeding your piranha with foods rich in carotenoids... like shrimp and krill... Bob Fenner, who is visiting in Cabo San Lucas, but needs to get back and finish writing the Serrasalminae piece on www.WetWebMedia.com...>

Re: Red (-Bellied) Piranha Does minnow bring the red belly out more? (As a food? Not really... I would avoid feeding freshwater fishes alive... too much chance for parasite problems... Please read over the 'Feeding Feeders' section on the Marine Index (I know, Piranha's are fresh)... on the site www.WetWebMedia.com Bob Fenner)

Hi guys, thanks for any help you can give me! <You're welcome> I have just bought 4 juvenile Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri ) and housed them all in my 75 (US) gallon tank. They are very young and are only around my fingernail in size, apart from one. He is at least twice the size of the rest and far more active and a stronger swimmer. I am a bit lost on how to feed them; the local fish stores keeper said they would eat flakes for now. <What? No... or at least not substantially... try feeding a lion or a tiger naught but "Cornflakes"... if you get my drift. These fish need animal protein, and likely live at first... like NOW... as they will definitely bite, even eat each other...> With the fish being so tiny and the tank a fair size it seems impossible to feed them without making serious mess and waste. Will they feed from the bottom? <Yes... if the food is live, moving... you might try a trick with a glass (so you can see what's going on) and black worms, Tubificid worms... Or juvenile livebearers (baby guppies, platies...)... occasionally live brine shrimp, daphnia, glass "worms"...> Some form of tablet that can easily be removed if not touched? Flakes get everywhere and I think the sand substrate will be far harder to clean than the usual gravel in my community tanks. I only really wanted 3 in the tank with it being a little small for the intended fish but I thought there maybe a risk of one dying through cannibalism! <You are wise here> I have a spare 10 gallon tank that is not in use; do you think I should house the biggest Nat in that till the others catch up in size? <A good plan... in fact, it might be advisable to place all them in this smaller volume to facilitate feeding them, making sure they're all eating... for a few months> Or will this lead to other problems when re-introduced with his equal size tank mates. He is a loner compared to the others, they tend to shoal together nearer the bottom. He tends to swim around on his own nearer the top, it is 2 ft deep. I suppose the current is a little strong for them too. A powerhead (AquaClear 30) is in there but not switched on because the Eheim 2026 Pro II current seems a bit strong for them anyway. Cheers, Ian <This is not too strong a current... and a good way to make sure they are getting exercise, oxygen, and loose material is being stirred up for filtration removal. Do look on the Net under the words "Piranha, feeding, aquarium". Bob Fenner>
Re: Piranha
I am feeding them frozen cubes of Brine Shrimp and Bloodworm, I mean they are eating flakes too. The Lions and the cornflakes made me laugh, a good comparison! Do you think I should give them live foods then? <As long as they appear "full" and are not picking (bites missing out of fins...) all should be fine> I didn't really want to feed them live fish, I hate killing things! But bloodworms and Brine Shrimp I would. Are they too small for cut up fish fillets? <Not if they can be slowly trained onto same... try mixing in bits with the foods they are presently consuming...> I didn't really understand the glass trick bit? Surely If I put them all in a 10 gallon tank I am almost certainly going to lose a few to cannibalistic tendencies? <I would skip on moving them if they're all eating what you're offering. There is indeed more chance of cannibalism if they are more crowded> The larger one does tend to chase the smaller ones around. I was thinking about putting a shoal of Neon Tetra in there because I would like some of these in my community tank. They could grow out a bit in the larger tank. Would the Piranha, if they must, be more likely eat the Neons than each other. <Yes> I don't really want to see any fish die but I would rather it be a little Neon than one of my Nats. Thanks once again for being most helpful, Ian <Glad to share with you Ian. Bob Fenner>

Piranha Question Hi, my name is Jeff.  I have had a red belly piranha for 3 1/2 years in a 29 gallon tank.  I am guessing it is  about 6 or 7 inches long.   <Mmm, needs larger quarters> For some reason, I have not been able to get it  to eat in about 3 WEEKS.  When I have had problems with it not eating in  the past, it would usually have visible symptoms of some type of illness, such  as swimming towards the top of the tank, heavy breathing, cloudy eyes, or other  types of uncharacteristic behavior. <Most likely all directly or indirectly to being in too small a volume> This time, however, it seems totally  healthy, besides the fact that it will not eat.  It still seems to have as  much energy as it normally did and does not appear sick or  malnutritioned.  It has been on a diet of a variety of foods, such as  Formula 1, frozen clams, beef heart, and a few other different frozen foods to  incorporate a variety in its diet. <Ah, good>   I have tried each one of these foods at  least once in the past few weeks and only one time did the piranha take a few  bites of the Formula 1.  Normally at feeding time, as soon as I open the  hood of the tank, the piranha darts around because it knows that it's feeding  time.  Now, it shows absolutely no interest in the food and the food will  just sit for a few minutes until I remove it.     I did a 10 gallon water change on Saturday, January  8.  I made sure the water that I was putting into the tank was the same  temperature as the water already in the tank (74 deg. far.), and that it was  dechlorinated. <Mmm, though Piranha do go through lack of feeding bouts, I would definitely raise the temperature here... to the low eighties F. over a period of a few days> It was the same bucket I normally use for cleaning my  tank and it was kept away from anything that could have gotten into  it. <Good> I also changed both filters in my tank including the biological  one. <Mmm, I would NOT change all filtration at any given time... too likely to interrupt biological cycling> On Thursday, January 13, I tested my water. The pH level was  about 7.0, and there were no traces of ammonia.  The nitrite level was  somewhat high at almost .50. <You no doubt are aware that the nitrite you want to be non-detectable... i.e. 0.0 ppm>   The nitrate level was at about 40. On  Sunday, January 16, I did a 5 gallon water change, using the same procedures  mentioned above.     So my question remains. . .what do I do now?   Should I use medicine? <Raise temperature> Is the piranha too big for the 29 gallon  tank? <Yes> Is the piranha's time about to be up? <Doubtful... have been known to live for decades> If you could help  me with this problem I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you in advance,   Jeff <Try raising the temperature, continue to offer food as you have been doing so well... and do look into a larger tank, some added filtration, circulation for your Piranha. Bob Fenner>
Re: Piranha Question
Mr. Fenner, <Jeff> First off, I would like to thank you for your response to my questions concerning my piranha. As you suggested, I gradually raised the temperature to about 83/84 degrees far. I have continued to try feeding the piranha different foods (except live food) and it STILL will not eat!  <Mmm> Unfortunately, I am not able to look into a larger tank for it at this time, for I do not have the space nor the money to do so. I can only hope the tank size is not the difference between life and death for it now. <Me too> As far as added filtration, I already have a Whisper filter and a Penguin Bio-Wheel filter in the tank. What else would I get and will it even fit in my 29 gallon tank? <Perhaps another hang-on power filter or a canister type> I have not tried adding circulation either. What do you suggest? <A powerhead or two... in the upper back corners...> I have also tested the water again and it actually looks even better than before, with much lower nitrite levels. <Should be zero... this DOES negatively affect your fish's health, appetite> As far as the piranha's behavior, it usually just stays in one spot for the most part. However, it has been showing some peculiar behavior where it freaks out and darts across the tank, banging the heater, filters, and gravel.  <Quite common for solitary piranha species in small tanks... they're much more calm in a group, in large systems> Physically though, it still looks healthy, with the exception of some wounds from banging into the different objects I mentioned. So, what do you recommend I do now? Should I try some sort of medication?  I'm beginning to get worried.  Thank you in advance, Jeff Harris <Wait... your fish will NOT starve... for the nitrite to go to zero... then offer an assortment of meaty foods... a bit at a time. Bob Fenner>

Feeding Piranhas Do you know of any ways to get my piranhas to eat anything but feeders that would be great.  I've tried mixing live with salmon chunks, krill they eat sometimes, but usually they refuse and then the fin nipping and body wounds begin.  Starving is out of the question as one has just recovered from an eye injury caused buy the other during my attempt to starve them so they would eat something else.  They are about 4 and 4.5-5 inches long right now and GROWING!  Thanks! <Is perhaps the major drawback of piranhas... think your plan to quarantine feeders may be your best bet, that and continue trying to mix in other foods from time to time. Cheers, J -- >

Red Belly Piranha 7/11/05 I have 2 red bellies in my tank at home aside from feeder fish I want to offer them some fruit alternatives. What type of fruits or greens do you suggest? They have lived off of feeders and lean lunch meat for 6 years but I would like other alternatives... Thanks! Chris M <Other lean, meaty foods... like earthworms, mealworms, crickets, fish fillets... I doubt that they'll accept plant material, but you could try blanched/microwaved bits of squash... Bob Fenner>

Starting my tank   12/19/06 Hello, <<Hello, Tara. Tom here.>> We have just bought the jewel tank containing 190 litres and are setting it up to contain red belly piranhas. We originally wanted 3 but after reading your site discovered that its only really big enough for 2 at a push. <<Given an adult size of approximately 12 inches (30.5 cm), two of these fish would, indeed, be pushing the limit of a 190-liter (50-gallon) tank, Tara. Adequate cover and low lighting should be provided to keep 'skittishness' to a minimum.>> We also would like to know if it is essential to test the water pH before putting in the fish. <<Do yourselves this favor, Tara. Visit the pet shop and find out what the pH is of the water that your future pets are currently being kept in. Piranhas come from waters that are soft and acidic in their natural habitat with the pH below neutral (7.0). This really isn't as critical as trying to avoid introducing them to a tank that's far off from what they've been acclimated to, however. Stability is the key factor here.>> The tank has been set up for nearly 2 weeks now at the right temp and I don't want to be ignorant by hurting the fish by just putting them in without it being perfect. <<pH is not going to be your only concern here. In fact, ammonia and nitrite levels are going to be far more of a concern right now than pH will be. Unless you've taken some extraordinary measures to speed up the 'cycling' of the tank, I doubt that your tank is more than one-third to one-half through the cycling process after only two weeks. Test for ammonia and nitrite (both should be zero) and check your nitrate levels as well. Nitrates, by way of explanation, are the 'end product' of the nitrifying process. If ammonia and nitrites are zero but nitrates are also zero, your tank isn't ready for live fish. Your pet shop can test a sample for you if you don't have a test kit already. Personally, I highly recommend that you get one so that you can do your own testing. Shops have a tendency to tell folks that levels are 'safe' without being specific about what this really means. Better in the long run for you to know 'exactly' what your readings are. More convenient, too.>> Also, what would be your best recommendation to start feeding them as they are only about the size of a 2p when we get them. <<Thawed mussels, prawns, shrimp and fish will be appreciated but there are processed foods, in the form of pellets, for carnivorous fish like Piranhas that they may also take to in order to vary their diet. You might find that early on they'll also accept flake food. (By the way, '2p', for the benefit of our American readers who don't have one readily available, is about the size of a Susan B. Anthony dollar, which is nearly exactly the size of an American quarter. That one might have worked better if George Washington and Ms. Anthony hadn't look so much alike. :) )>> (Although, my husband really wants to feed them live food on occasion. I suppose it's a bloke thing). <<Advise your husband to keep this to a minimum, Tara. Feeder fish have little nutritional value and can be a source of disease. You and I know he's going to do it anyway but, it's not without risk to your pets.>> Thanks for your help Tara <<Consider giving your tank another fortnight (I don't get a chance to use that term very often) to cycle completely and really consider the test kit I mentioned. Uneaten food, if there is any with Piranhas, will need to be removed to prevent your water conditions from becoming toxic. Good idea to stay on top of this as best you can. Good luck with your new additions, Tara. Cheers. Tom>>

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