Piranha Fish Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

A piranha is a type of fish that lives in rivers and lakes of South America. But don't let it nibble on your toes; its teeth are sharp as razors! Join us to learn more about this interesting fish.

What Are Features of a Piranha?

You might be the kind of person who enjoys swimming in lakes or rivers. How would you feel about swimming with piranhas? Many people think of these fish and imagine being shredded apart by their sharp teeth. However, these fish aren't quite as scary as they are made out to be. They do have teeth that can shred and slice, but they are not likely to attack people. Dive into piranha infested waters with us as we learn more about this toothy swimmer.

At first glance, a piranha may seem like just another ordinary fish. Its wide body is typically around 8-12 inches long, and shimmers with silvery scales. So what gives the piranha such a fearsome reputation? We must peek inside its mouth to find out!

The infamous piranha

It is the unique teeth of the piranha that makes it ferocious and feared. Each tooth is triangular in shape and is as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel. When the piranha closes its jaw, its teeth interlock. This creates a scissor-like motion, slicing whatever it is biting into. This is one fish you don't want to get too friendly with!

Dried piranha specimen showing sharp teeth
piranha teeth

What Do Piranhas Eat?

Despite their reputation as fierce meat-eaters, piranhas are actually omnivores. This means they eat everything; not just meat. Some of their favorite foods are insects, crustaceans, worms and also plants. In fact, some species of piranhas are strictly vegetarian!

Fortunately for South Americans who use the rivers frequently, piranhas really don't attack people. However, it is a different story if an animal is wounded or weak and happens to fall in the river. To a piranha, thrashing in the water signals a possible meal. And while we might use our ears to hear noise in the water, piranhas are able to sense it in a different way. How do they do it?

A Piranha's Special Sensors

A piranha has a row of special sensors on its body called a lateral line. These detect movement and vibration, and tell the piranha that something is in the water. The more thrashing and splashing, the more interested the piranha gets. And the smell of blood to a piranha is like the smell of fresh-baked cookies to us: irresistible!

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