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PIRANHA: Fruits and Seeds In The Native Habitat

By Frank Magallanes

Written: January 24, 2006












I have written this article to inform hobbyist what piranha and pirambeba feed on when to comes to certain fruits and seeds in their native habitat. While many of these types of foods are not readily available in grocery or supermarkets, some might be.


South America has fish community were the feeding of fruits and seeds is common place (Araujo-Lima and Goulding).  The flood plain has an abundance of fruit and seeds that fish like piranhas and in particular pacus feed on. Fishes migrate to this flooded rainforests in search of food that might fall into the water. Such eating of fruits and seeds appears to be limited to characin and catfish families. Other family of species such as cichlid are limited in this type of feeding. Only a few areas have been studied (Canestri, 1970; Goulding 1980; Gottsberger 1978; Goudling et al. 1988; Ziburski 1991; Kubitzki and Ziburski 1993).


Hobbyists are strongly cautioned that many of these fruits or seeds could potentially foul the aquarium, so prudence is recommended in not overfeeding the fishes. Pay particular attention in not letting the food go uneaten, removal is strongly recommended if the fish has not eaten the fruit/seeds within 5 minutes of introduction. Water changes should be a matter of routine (10-15%  2 or 3 times per week).


According to Devon Graham (Margarita Tours, Inc) - For fruits from the Euphorbiaceae and Palm families - most of these are not sweet fruits, but are somewhat oily and high in lipids and proteins - same is true for Lauraceae (which includes fruits like avocado), hence piscivory isn't necessary to maintain protein in the diet, and it is probably easier for a piranha to hang out under a fruiting tree during high water and just feed on falling fruit than it is for it to hunt fish when they are so widely dispersed through the forest.



What fruit/seeds are found?


There is a tree called the piranha-tree (Piranhea trifoliata. Euphorbiaceae family) which produces a huge seed crop. Another shrub-like tree has berry-like fruit that fish can pluck from its branches when the forest is flooded, Alchornea species (Euphorbiaceae family). This tree grows along riverbanks and lake flood plain. Some other berry-like fruit includes; Passion fruit (Passiflora species) Wild Soursop (Annona species), Cecropia species, Wild guava (Myrtaceae), Melon family (Cucurbitaceae) and Ficus species (Moraceae). Other examples include drupes eaten by tambaqui and probably piranha also; Louro (Lauraceceae) Sapotaceae, Uxi (Licania species), and Cajurana (Simaba, now known as Quassia species, Simaroubaceae family).


The Brazil nut tree has several species in the family (Lecythidaceae) which fish like piranha and pacu feed on. The large seeds of Lecythis species fall into the water after the fruits skin opens to release its seeds. Other types are also included in the families Leguminosae and Bignoniaceae. Other large fruits that pacu feed on (the seeds that disperse once cracked open and eaten by piranha) is Catoré (Crataeva benthami). It is one of the largest fruits on which the tambaqui feeds (Araujo-Lima and Goulding).
















  1. Apocynaceae - Macoubea species - grows in flooded forest, fruits ripen at high water.

  2. Aquifoliaceae - Ilex inundata - abundant fruit at high water - most fish seem to completely ignore the fruit, however - they are somewhat bitter tasting.

  3. Cucurbitaceae - unidentified fruit/flower from a curcubit growing at the edge of a river and overhanging the water.

  4. Euphorbiaceae - Hevea braziliensis (rubber tree) - fruits from a tree on the Amazon floodplain - green and dried fruits - the capsule splits open. releasing 3 seeds, or the entire capsule falls into the water where it is broken open by fish like gamitana.

  5. Passifloraceae - fruits of Passiflora vitifolia - a very common passionflower of varzea forest.

  6. Capparadicaeae - Crateva sp. fruit - a common plant on river edges - fruits at high water and fruits are broken open and used as bait by local people.

  7. Gurania rhizantha - Fruit and flower from Madre Selva Preserve on Rio Orosa, Peruvian Amazon.

Below are the recognized caribe/pirambeba species that feed on fruits and seeds:


- Pygopristis denticulata; seeds, fruits and rest animals

- Pristobrycon calmoni; seeds and rest fish

- Pristobrycon maculipinnis; seeds and rest fish

- Serrasalmus gouldingi; fruits, seeds and the rest fish scales

- Serrasalmus manueli; fruit, seeds and the fish parts.

- Serrasalmus rhombeus; Stomach contents include seeds.

- Pygocentrus nattereri. - See link prior to 2005 study by field researchers.

- errasalmus aff brandtii.

Devon also had the following remarks regarding Pygocentrus nattereri feeding on fruit. I don't know if they regularly do it in the wild under completely natural situations, but they do regularly take fruit as bait when fishing with hook and line - local people often catch them on fruit baits as do visitors to the Amazon. According to Devon, a piece of banana is used as a bait to capture these toothy fish on a hook.


Piranha/Caribe species not completely recognized by science as seed or fruit eaters, but probably do:


- Pygocentrus cariba - Not known

- Pygocentrus piraya - Not known




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