Wrecking Machine!

Often favored because of its aggression, the Black Piranha isn't a fish for just anyone

by Mike McEwan with special thanks to Wayne Mah

The Black Piranha is quite possibly the most feared of all Piranhas. This large characin is rare, so rare in fact that some even doubt its existence all together. This is because many Piranhas whose color had darkened with age were mistakenly classified as S. niger by various authors, especially adult S. nattereri and S. rhombeus.

The Black Piranha has a powerful body and large, razor-sharp triangular teeth. Juveniles are a more light color than adults, whos bodies and fins are a blackish grey. The dorsal fin is located far back on the fish and the caudal fin is small by typical Piranha standards.

In the aquarium, S. niger will attack anything that moves. It's almost as if its one mission in life is the kill any other fish in its territory that doesn't belong there. Although these fish are sometimes available in the aquarium hobby, they can be difficult to maintain, even in a single-species tank, because of their aggressive nature. The Black Piranha is suspected of attacks on man.

Tank Setup

Black Piranhas need to be kept in large aquariums that allow for a lot of open-swimming. An aquarium of no less than 100 gallons will not justify such a creature. The tank should be decorated with large rocks as well as floating plants. Bogwood is appreciated.

When trying to find tankmates for the Black Piranha, expect to lose a few fish. Any open-swimming fishes are not recommended. Cichlids will often either be ambushed or go into jaw-locks with it, in which case their mouths will be completely destroyed. A Pleco of some sort may be the only hope of a tankmate for this beast. Piranhas are schooling fish but will sometimes turn on each other. Piranhas will usually leave snails alone.


The Black Piranha is pure carnivore. The will usually only accept chunks of live foods or chunks of meat. However, they may be trained to accept prepared foods such as carnivorous pellets or flakes. Black Piranhas are typical cruising ambush predators in that when hungry, they will make swift and fast feeding passes at any small object that looks like food. For this reason, they are hard to keep in any type of large community tank. Feeder goldfish are much appreciated.

Water Chemistry

They can handle a large variation of water conditions such as a pH from 5.8-7.5. However, Neutral pH is recommended.


Piranhas breeding in captivity is a rare event. It is usually achieved spontaneously in large public aquariums. Finding a compatible pair of fish that are this aggressive can be very difficult. For the most part, Black Piranhas are substrate spawners that build a nest among the vegetation and bottom detritus and deposit the eggs there. The male, or sometimes both parents, will fearlessly guard the nest. Any serious attempt of breeding Black Piranha should be done in a tank no less than 200 gallons in capacity. Sexing information is unknown.

Black Piranha

Sci Name:
Serrasalmus niger
South America
Max Size:
Slightly Acidic
72-82 F.
Tank Size:
75 Gallons