AskDefine | Define piranha

Dictionary Definition



1 someone who attacks in search of booty [syn: marauder, predator, vulture]
2 small voraciously carnivorous freshwater fishes of South America that attack and destroy living animals [syn: pirana, caribe]

User Contributed Dictionary



First attested 1869. Up to now there exist at least three versions on where the name piranha comes from:
  • From a hybrid-language composed of Tupi-etyl gn languages; it may be a compound word made of the components pirá + sanha or ranha.
  • From pirá + ánha.
  • From piranha, from pira nya, variant of pira'ya.


  1. A kind of dangerous fish; may be used in a figurative sense.
  2. A carnivorous freshwater fish living in South American rivers and belonging to the families of Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus.





  1. piranha

Extensive Definition

A Piranha or piraña (, or /pɨˈrænə/) is a member of a family of omnivorous freshwater fish which live in South American rivers. In Venezuelan rivers they are called caribes. They are known for their sharp teeth and an aggressive appetite for meat. However, despite the negative Hollywood publicity piranhas are not generally violent, and have been known to be domesticated in home and office fish tanks.


The name piranha may come from a hybrid language composed of Tupi-Guarani languages; it may be a compound word made of the components pirá, meaning 'fish', and sanha or ranha, meaning 'tooth'. In Tupi, inalienably possessed nouns take the prefix t-, s-, or r- depending on the possessor, or zero in combination; thus pirá + anha. Alternatively, it may come from Tupi pirá (fish) and ánha (devil).


Piranhas belong to the family of Serrasalmidae (though some scientists still classify them in the family Characidae which also includes closely related herbivorous fish including pacus). Traditionally, only the four genera Pristobrycon, Pygocentrus, Pygopristis, and Serrasalmus are considered to be true piranhas, due to their specialized teeth. However, a recent analysis showed that, if the piranha group is to be monophyletic, it should be restricted to Serrasalmus, Pygocentrus, and part of Pristobrycon, or expanded to include these taxa plus Pygopristis, Catoprion, and Pristobrycon striolatus. Pygopristis was found to be more closely related to Catoprion than the other three piranha genera. Recently a piranha was caught by a fisherman in the Catawba River in North Carolina. This is the first known case in North Carolina and possibly in the region. Piranha have also been discovered in the Kaptai Lake in South-East Bangladesh. Research is being carried out to establish how piranha have moved to such distant corners of the world from their original habitat. It is anticipated that rogue exotic fish traders have released them in the lake to avoid being caught by anti-poaching forces.


Locals often use piranha teeth to make tools and weapons. Piranha are also a popular food, though if an individual is caught on a hook or line it may be attacked by other piranhas.
Piranha are commonly consumed by subsistence fishermen and often sold for food in local markets. The most common piranha is the Pygocentrus nattereri, or the red-bellied piranha. Piranhas can be bought fully grown or as babies, often no bigger than a thumbnail. It is important to keep Pygocentrus piranhas alone or in groups of three or more, not in pairs, since aggression among them is common and is distributed more widely when kept in larger groups, allowing the weaker fish to survive. When kept in groups, it is recommended that they are in even-numbered groups, as piranhas will gang up on an odd member. It is not rare to find individuals with one eye missing due to a previous attack. The preferred feeds are thawed shrimp, fillets of white fish, and disease free feeders, but any fish-based foods are adequate. The young are to be fed very little, as overfeeding can kill them. Blood worms, or insect larvae are a good choice of food, as they are full of protein. If underfed, piranhas are likely to become cannibalistic on others in their group. They eat more as they grow older and larger. In order to provide a balanced diet, it is usually necessary to change types of food often. Feeder goldfish are a popular choice for feeding piranhas, although they contain a vitamin B inhibitor that may stunt growth and shorten the fish's life span. It is recommended to feed them with feeder goldfish as a treat, once in a while, rather than basing their diet only on that. Piranhas prefer a darker environment with a lot of plant cover, as they become agitated when denied appropriate cover. It is not advisable to leave the light on constantly, for with too much light, they may lose the desire to eat.


External links

piranha in Guarani: Pirãi
piranha in Bulgarian: Пираня
piranha in Catalan: Piranya
piranha in Danish: Piratfisk
piranha in German: Piranhas
piranha in Spanish: Piraña
piranha in French: Piranha
piranha in Scottish Gaelic: Piranha
piranha in Korean: 피라냐
piranha in Indonesian: Piranha
piranha in Italian: Piranha
piranha in Hebrew: פיראניה
piranha in Lithuanian: Piranijos
piranha in Malayalam: പിരാന
piranha in Dutch: Piranha's
piranha in Japanese: ピラニア
piranha in Norwegian: Pirayaer
piranha in Polish: Pirania
piranha in Portuguese: Piranha
piranha in Finnish: Piraijat
piranha in Swedish: Pirayor
piranha in Thai: ปลาปิรันยา
piranha in Vietnamese: Cá răng đao
piranha in Turkish: Pirana
piranha in Chinese: 食人鱼
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