Before you go to the local fishmonger to buy your first pet piranha, there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Piranhas are Amazon River fish – making them feel right at home in your basement and keeping them for a long time will require a great deal of effort on your part. Proper lighting, proper water chemistry, and proper maintenance will go a long way.
2. They don’t eat table scraps – Don’t think you can scrape the scraps off your plate at every meal in the hope that it’s enough to keep them going. They are meat lovers and require a consistent high quality diet (brine shrimp, daphnia, beef heart, shrimp, etc.) And no, a meat lover’s pizza doesn’t count! Owners have been known to dispose of their piranhas based solely on the supermarket bill.
3. The bigger the better – The fish tank it is. Many people try to put piranhas in smaller tanks and wonder why they do not survive. Of course, it can work sometimes, but you have a greater chance of success when you grow up. Now, having said all that, there are many advantages to having a piranha as a pet. Having the correct setup can be an incredible experience.
The next step is to decide what you want and then get the right supplies.
1. Determine the type of piranha you want to get.
I will keep it simple. Piranhas are freshwater aquarium fish and there are many different types of piranhas you can choose from, so it is important that you do your own research. I can tell you that the most popular on the market is the Red Belly Piranha (also known as the Red-bellied Piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri), so my suggestion is to start with these lovely little critters if you are just starting out. The main reason is that there is a ton of information on the web about these guys if you are having trouble.
2. Piranha Tank (Aquarius)
The average Pygocentrus can grow up to 7 to 10 inches, so choosing the correct aquarium size is extremely important. If you save money and go for a smaller tank, you may (not always) spend more money when you end up replacing your piranhas more often. Yes, there is a lot of debate about what aquarium size you should get, and lots of evidence that smaller tanks can work, so this is actually a “risk versus reward” type of decision you should make. However, the general rule of thumb is to have 20 gallons (80 liters) per adult fish.
My personal preference is to go big or go home! It’s much more amazing and fun to see pet piranhas in action in larger, well-decorated aquariums, rather than crammed into smaller 20-40 gallon tanks. But hey, it’s just me. Try to start with at least 60-75 gallons if you can. It’s not going to be cheap, but you can always sell the tank later without losing too much money.
As for the number of piranhas to get, it is also a personal preference. If you like shy and timid piranhas, stick with one because they tend to hide most of the day. (Hint: Not much fun for the fish or for you!) The general rule of thumb when it comes to red-bellied piranhas is to keep 3 or more as a minimum. This is because they are school fish, which means that they like to hang out in gangs and do not love to be alone. Some people have tried to keep two together, however that is a bit risky as one may attempt to dominate the other (i.e. possibly slit the other’s throat while sleeping at night).
3. Aquarium supplies
This is where you can keep things simple or go crazy. It all depends on how you want the end result to look and how much $$$ you are willing to spend. I give you the basic list below, but it comes down to personal preference as there are so many supplies available so it’s really up to you to do your research. A great way to do this is to look at hundreds of aquarium pictures online to see what you like.
Filtration system – Absolute essential to keep your piranha healthy. Piranhas eat dirty and require more filtration than other fish, so choose wisely. There are canister filters, power filters, gravel filters, inner box filters, wet / dry filters, and sponge filters. Suggest that you speak to your local representative to learn the pros and cons of each.
Heater – Necessary to keep the water temperature at a constant level. Some people have an extra one at home in case the first one decides to kick the bucket. Useful if you don’t have a store nearby.
Thermometer – Unless you’re willing to dip your finger into the piranha infested water to see what the temperature is like (I like my fingers the way they are, thanks), you should probably get one of these.
Power head – Good for extra water circulation that piranhas love, but you may not need one if your filtration system gives you enough water flow.
Decorations – This is where things can get crazy. Possibilities:
- Aquarium Lights – Piranhas hate bright lights, so try to keep lighting to a minimum if possible.
- Plants: You can go for real plants that make the aquarium look more natural; however, there is more maintenance involved. Fake plants will work too.
- Driftwood, gravel, rocks, shells, coral, etc. – Again, it all depends on how you want the final result to look. Important note: some accessories such as certain corals and rocks will change the chemistry of the water in your aquarium and be harmful to your piranha, so speak with your local representative and do your homework before purchasing!
Hope this gives you an idea of what you will need to get started.