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S. niger photo courtesy acknowledgment of the Freshwater and Marine Image Bank. OPEFE educational use onlyWELCOME TO OPEFE ARCHIVES


Piranha Negra

Serrasalmo niger

Jardine (W) in Schomburgk 1841

Serrasalmo niger Plate XI.V. Annals of the Carnegie Museum. 


CURRENT STATUS: Synonym of S. rhombeus (Linnaeus 1766)




From Frank Magallanes


I hope after the piranha researching student reads this page they will come to understand why this fish is not a valid species and why S. niger was a mistake in taxonomic description based on the Author's error and omissions.


Native Common Names: Katte, Chitão, Huma, Arai, pirai, U.S. Common Names: Niger, Black Piranha


niger, Serrasalmus Jardine [W.] in Schomburgk 1841:225, Pl. 18 [The Natural history of fishes of Guiana.--Part I.; Guyana. No types known. •Valid as Serrasalmus niger Jardine 1841 -- (Géry 1972:239). •In genus Pygocentrus -- (Machado-Allison & Fink 1991:110). •Synonym of Serrasalmus rhombeus (Linnaeus 1766) -- (Jégu in Reis et al. 2003:192). Photo by Dr. A. Brauer of actual type (circa 1915)  Berlin Museum.


PIRAMBEBA - Aquarium care would be the same as S. rhombeus. A large aquarium is required with heavy filtration..

Description Reexamination by Dr. J. D. Anisits (1915) for Carl H. Eigenmann:


Dr. J. D. Anisits has kindly reexamined the type, No. 3631 Berlin Museum, and has given me (Eigenmann refering to himself) the following data. Total length 365 mm., body 335, height 180. Head 3 in the total length: eye 5 in the head, 3 in the interorbital; abdominal serrae 40-41; D. 17, A. 34; scales about 40-130-42. I owe to Director Dr. A. Brauer the photograph of the type, which is reproduced in Plate XI.V. (Eigenmann 1915)



Serrasalmo niger, portrait by Schomburgk 1841, OPEFE Educational use.

Plate 18; Serrasalmo niger, from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) 




Pg. 226 

This is a most voracious fish found plentiful in all the rivers of Guiana, and is dreaded by every other in habitant or visitant of the river.... They vary in colour from lead-colour to nearly black; the eyes is situate near the middle of the head; scaling rather small, smooth at the edge, oval, and adhesive. Lateral line runs near the middle of the body, bending from the top of the opercle. Head and body depressed; ventral fins, under the dorsal, large and strong; nostrils oval, double, situate near the eye; tongue fleshy; lower jaw produced; teeth triangular, serrated, and very sharp, - six on each side of upper, and seven in the lower jaw; vent near to the anal fin; gill-cover striated, with smooth edges; gill-rays 4, are not covered by the gill-lid, but free, and extend from its lower margin towards the throat; the opening semi lunar....air bag is long and double.....The belly is serrated.


Pg. 227

The ovary in the female is double....The length of these specimens was sixteen inches, by the half in depth below the dorsal fin. The air-bladder is stated to be single and oval. The colour of the drawings is deep bluish black, paler on the lower half of the fish, and there, as well as on the opercula, appearing to have a golden or bronze tint, as represented in the two allied species of Spix, S. aureus and nigricans. All the fins are of a very deep shade of the same colour; the iris is coloured of a rich lake...





Robert Hermann Schomburgk (1843), while exploring parts of South America discovered what he thought was a new species of piranha. Because the captured fish was black in color in bestowed the species name of niger. To complicate the issue further, Schomburgk found two more similar dark colored piranhas and thought them to be the same species. In his written description, he erred in saying that this fish had two types of air bladders (fish only have one). Moreover, the drawing that was supposed to be S. niger was colored in months afterwards based on field notes written by another person (W. Jardine, 1841). The only helpful clue to the fishes real identity was the mention of the coloration of the eye color which Schomburgk said was "rich lake" = red. The front of the body becomes heavy making them look like true piranha similar to those found in genus Pygocentrus. The palate is toothless at this time which confounded historic ichthyologists.


John R. Norman (1929) remarked that he was sent a 370 mm specimen from the Rio Negro. The fish was marked as "Piranha negro," the palate was toothless; in all other characters it very closely followed the 280 mm Amazonian example of rhombeus. The teeth on the Amazonian example the teeth were few, small, and blunt. Also, there is only one portrait in existence of the Schomburgk niger taken of the original type example (see image TOP of page). 


The fish was classified as Rooseveltiella niger (Müller and Troschel), Type No. 3631, Berlin Museum. The fish was labeled "Pygocentrus niger M.. TR." in the handwriting of Johannes Müller. The fish measured 365 mm long and was collected in Guiana. Because of the lack of palatine teeth (also called ectopterygoid) the fish was placed in genus Pygocentrus by Carl Eigenmann (1915).


Schomburgk erected the Latin name niger based on the fishes "black" color or perhaps it originates from the river it inhabits, the Rio Negro (black river). The genus Pygocentrus is also found in the same river locality as the poorly described niger. Quite likely the other fish with the short bladder was a Pygocentrus species. As for the color pattern, as stated above "black body coloration" is very common among serrasalmin fish and those fish he collected were more likely in breeding condition or old age. 


Old historical descriptions generally omitted whether or not the coloration was due to the fish being in breeding condition. Coloration is only one character in determining a species identity and for the most part, not important as the actual counts. Many of the historical descriptions of certain piranhas have been assigned as inaccurate (with some exceptions).



The only live example of S. niger, 1955 (= S. rhombeus)

The only live example of S. niger, 1955 (= S. rhombeus)










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Update: 11/16/2014