Forty red-bellied piranhas have made their debut at Chester Zoo.
It’s the first time that aquarists have cared for the species at the zoo in more than 30 years.
The zoo’s fish specialists say they hope the arrival of the piranhas will help them to dispel some myths and rewrite the fish’s fearsome stereotype.
Piranhas have a reputation for viscously attacking unsuspecting prey, as depicted in numerous blockbuster movies, but experts say they in fact favour scavenging for food over hunting. Scientists have also highlighted the key role the fish play in sustaining stable underwater ecosystems.
Hannah Thomas, Aquarium Team Manager at Chester Zoo, said, “Hollywood certainly hasn’t done the piranha any favours over the years.
“The narrative that’s been unfairly attached to them is one of a brutal predator with a fearsome reputation, but that’s certainly not the case – they’re very much misunderstood.
“Indeed we hope the arrival of the piranhas here at the zoo will help us to start to dispel some of these myths.
“While they are meat-eaters with sharp teeth that will sometimes give a nip to the fins and tails of other fish, a good portion of their diet comes from hoovering up bits of dead flesh and dead fish found in rivers, as well as insects and various plant materials.
“The role they play in maintaining the balance of aquatic ecosystems is key and, without them, many other species that live in the same areas as them would be unable to thrive and survive. Ecosystems are delicate and if one piece is to be removed, the whole thing can start to come crashing down.
“Red-bellied piranhas can often be seen swimming in shoals but this has little to do with coordinated hunting and is lot more to do with self-defence. Piranhas often fall victim to larger fish, birds, caimans and Amazon river dolphins so, like many animals, they huddle together for protection.
“They also demonstrate some fascinating behaviours. Male piranhas, for example, will dig nests in the river bed and then court a female by swimming in circles. If she’s impressed she’ll lay her eggs in the nest for him to fertilise. They’re a very special species and we as a team are feeling privileged to be able to start caring for them here in Chester and discovering more about them.”
The piranhas, which are native to South America, can now be found inside the zoo’s Spirit of the Jaguar habitat in a special Latin American tank, connecting visitors with the underwater world of the Amazon.