Fish of the Week – Piranha!

Welcome again, to what again seems to be another fish post on a diving blog. Weird huh. Well tough.

After watching Kelly Brook struggle against these little chaps in the creatively named ‘Piranha’, I felt the urge to discover if there is some truth to be found in the bloodbath capture by the film.

Piranhas are found in the Amazon basin (unless trapped in ancient underwater caves) in four main waterways: the Orinoco, in rivers of the Guyanas, in the Paraguay-Paraná, and the São Francisco River systems. However more wiley piranhas have managed to escape from private collections and specimens are occasionally found in the Potomac River, Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri and even as far north as Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, although they typically do not survive cold winters.

So how big will these blighters get to? An average size is 14-26 cm (5.5-10.25 inches) long although some have been recorded as big as 43cm (17 inches)! Crikey mate.

Teeth. The word piranha is synonymous with the image of gnashing, razor sharp teeth. Each species has a single row of tightly packed teeth top and bottom. Although perfect for shredding that injured Guinea foul it seems that they are equally happy to much down on some tasty plant life as I’m sure you’ll be surprised, as I was, to discover that they’re omnivores.

So do piranhas live up to their fearsome reputation? Research from St. Andrews University in Scotland suggests that the piranha is more fearful of us than we realise. With a keen sense of smell able to detect a trace of blood in 200l of water you can see how a fish detects its prey however they have poor eye sight. The shoaling of piranhas is now thought to be a defence mechanism rather than the offensive hunting ‘packs’.

Many people seem oblivious of the fact that the piranha is in fact good eating! Humans, caymans, river dolphins and larger fresh water hunt piranha as food. Yummy.

The myth of the aggressive piranha seems to have been brought into the western world most famously by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1914 described witnessing a shoal stripping the flesh from a cow in minutes when he visited Brazil. However he was unaware that the show had been set up to entertain tourists and that the captive fish had been kept hungry for days so they would go into a feeding frenzy.

Well then well then. What a interesting conclusion we have come to. Piranhas, slack jawed and aggressive as the seem are no more dangerous than an average dog. Still wouldn’t catch me diving with them though…



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