The piranha conjures up all sorts of thoughts, many of which are based on movies, where piranhas consume anything that enters or falls into the water. Fortunately, this is not a usual circumstance and typically in the Amazon Basin, “People eat piranhas, piranhas do not eat people!”
In free-flowing rivers and streams, piranha are incredibly abundant fishes, and although the red-breasted piranha appears to be the most abundant, there are also black piranha, white piranha and even the big fruit-eating pacu is a type of piranha.
On my many Amazon River cruises, I have caught many piranhas on hook and line as well as in seine nets. YES, SEINE NETS. These nets are fairly long, about 20 feet in length, and are pulled through the water by two people, one at each end. The lower weighted end of the net is held to the bottom by a person’s foot and the upper rope is held in ones hand. The depth of the net is usually about four or five feet. Amazingly, we wade and often swim in these areas, then pull the seine net and catch all sorts of fish, including many piranhas.
The piranha has a reputation that is certainly not deserved. Although, in certain circumstances these fish truly do become eating machines. As low water occurs, fish get trapped in oxbow lakes or small pools. Once the piranha have eaten all of the other species of fish, it does get dangerous for any other source of meat – including people – to enter the water. The local people are well-aware of these situations and they avoid those areas until the flood waters return. Even young children learn what areas they should not venture as piranhas have the potential of being dangerous at certain times in certain places.
The piranha has an amazing mouth full of incredibly sharp teeth. Once caught on a hook, it requires great care in removing the fish to ensure that the fisherman’s fingers remain intact. One swift bite can easily result in the tip of a finger being severely injured. Red-breasted piranhas are not especially large, and a 10 inch specimen is a nice catch. They are quite boney as food fare but many guests enjoy trying piranha, if nothing else, just to say they ate piranha while on their Amazon River tour.
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.