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What food to feed Piranhas, especially if they won't eat!
What foods should you feed your piranha? That is a question often asked by novices and even some people who have kept piranhas for awhile. It is difficult to simply categorize one type of food that will benefit your piranha since fishes in the wild eat a variety of foods. From worms, bugs, spiders, birds, mammals and the list goes on are all part of the daily menu that a piranha will be offered by nature. The home aquarium in contrast the daily menu changes to a more restrictive diet. What I intend to do here is give a suggested list of foods piranhas would eat. This list is not a golden rule for success nor to be taken as gospel. It is a method of feeding that I have used successfully on my piranhas for over 40 years. Much of it is based on trial and error. Even the piranha that refuses to eat can still be enticed to eat if one tries some of these foods.
PIRANHA BEHAVIOR IN FEEDING
One of the common problems reported from piranha keepers is their new fish refuses to eat. This problem is not uncommon as one would think. Piranhas by nature are very shy and resistant to new changes in the aquarium home. They usually fast for a few days until they become accustomed to their new surroundings. Experiments conducted at OPEFE (unpublished 1994-96) demonstrate that piranhas can survive up to three to four months without eating. They live on the fat storage which is stored in the dorsum area (= before the dorsal fin). Nature has given them this ability because South America has periods of dry season and food is scarce. Wild caught examples of piranhas show the dorsum area emaciated as if shrunken or wasted by some illness. This is the fat storage area that piranhas have been living on to get them through the dry season. Some species imported for the aquarium trade such as Pygopristis denticulata are so emaciated in the dorsum area they do not live long (click on link to read report). Other fish like Catoprion mento must be fed a variety of foods other than scales to keep them alive.
Each of my OPEFE web pages carries some discussion on what these predators eat in the wild. In some areas I mention the type of foods that they could be fed. Here on this page I will write down the suggested foods that have worked for me. Keep in mind, piranhas will initially refuse to eat this food. There are many reasons for this but the most predominate reason is the fish are in an unnatural environment-- the home aquarium. With this in mind, lets proceed to discover what foods you can feed your piranha. Live fishes can be fed to piranhas, but the problems with diseases and parasites must play into this factor. OPEFE does not discourage or encourage the feeding of live fish. That is a matter of choice that is up to the person who keeps his predator. One thing I should mention. Feeding of goldfish (Carassius species) does have inherent problems with fungus and are a known thiamine inhibitor (Thiamin [B-1] is an essential vitamin needed to regulate growth). If you intend to feed these type of fish or even frozen fish include liquid vitamin B complex to the aquarium water. Some aquarium pharmaceutical companies offer this vitamin supplement.
LIST OF FOODS
Freshly frozen food is better - Depending on your piranhas size they can be encouraged to eat flake and pellet foods.
Pygocentrus can be fed; beef heart (remove all fat and can be fed in chunks dependent on the size of your fish), frozen fish, frozen shrimp, frozen crab, frozen trout, frozen bluegill, cleaned earthworms, insects.
Serrasalmus can be fed; beef heart (remove all fat and can be fed in chunks dependent on the size of your fish), frozen fish including fins if available, frozen shrimp, frozen crab, frozen trout, frozen bluegill, cleaned earthworms. Some species (S. rhombeus) will accept bird seed, insects.
Pristobrycon can be fed; beef heart (remove all fat and can be fed in chunks dependent on the size of your fish), frozen fish (including fins), frozen shrimp, frozen crab, frozen trout, frozen bluegill, cleaned earthworms (some species of Pristobrycon will accept bird seed).
Pygopristis can be fed; dried bananas, walnuts (sliced), brazil nuts (sliced), parakeet seeds, frozen fish, frozen shrimp, frozen crab, cleaned earthworms, small pieces of beef heart (fat removed).
Catoprion mento can be fed; live fish with scales, precooked frozen shrimp, small bits of fish flesh, flies, crickets.
Metynnis species can be fed; live fish (guppy), shrimp, insects, shredded beef heart without fat, and aquarium flake food.
While the list above as previously stated is only a guideline, you must be the best judge on what condition your fish are in. Newly imported fish are difficult to feed, sometimes you have to experiment on what might work. I have taken common insects from the garden, (including moths) to see if the "non-eating" piranha would take it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Just be careful that these flying critters are not subjected to pesticides in your garden.
The key to successfully feeding your piranha is not to panic and try out new foods.
Do not feed; hamburger, hotdogs, chicken, ham slices or any other food that has preservatives. This type of food will foul the aquarium rapidly and possibly cause intestinal difficulties later in life.
OPEFE research files 1994-2000.
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