David Schleser Rebuttal of Plano, Texas Piranha Identification


December 21, 2006



As a former curator of the Dallas Aquarium at Fair Park, an author of a book about piranha biology and captive care and a leader of tropical fish study trips to the Peruvian Amazon I can say without equivocation that the so-called red-bellied piranhas confiscated in the Plano pet store are in truth the similar appearing young red-bellied pacus, a species that is fully legal to sell and own.  In nature the mainly vegetarian and inoffensive red-bellied pacus are thought to gain protection from predators by mimicking piranhas. While this is not the first time that Texas game wardens unfamiliar with these fish have misidentified them as piranhas, it astounds me that a pet store owner who has undoubtedly seen thousands of young pacus would be so ignorant - regardless of what the invoice might say! By the way, game warden misidentification of large pacus caught by fisherman in area lakes after they were released by irresponsible aquarium hobbyists when they had outgrown their fish tanks have been the source of many unnecessary  piranha scares in the media nationwide.


While red-bellied pacus and piranhas are similar in appearance there are many differences in body and fin shape between the two (2). Most significant is their a differently shaped mouths. That of the piranha being larger and with a heavier lower jaw, prognathic chin and very differently shaped teeth. Please note that both pacus and piranhas have teeth, but those of the piranhas are triangular and interlocking 

*Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

David M. Schleser

* Email can be sent to David M. Schleser c/o opefe@charter.net.





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UPDATED: 12/05/2015