For the first time in over three decades, Chester Zoo is caring for red-bellied piranha fish.
Now, 40 of the species are making their debut at the award-winning zoological gardens, and its experts are hoping the new arrivals will give them a chance to dispel the myths associated with the species.
Piranhas have become known as creatures that viciously attack their unsuspecting prey, a stereotype encouraged by an abundance of Hollywood blockbusters, but in fact they prefer scavenging for sustenance instead of hunting.
Aquarium Team Manager for Chester Zoo, Hannah Thomas, commented:
“While they are meat-eaters with sharp teeth that will sometimes give a nip to the fins and tails of other fish, a good portion of their diet comes from hoovering up bits of dead flesh and dead fish found in rivers, as well as insects and various plant materials.”
Environmental scientists have also underlined the important role the species performs in sustaining the stability of underwater ecosystems.
Thomas explained that without piranhas, the other species living in their aquatic ecosystem would fail to survive and thrive. Ecosystems involve a delicate balancing act and when a single element is removed, it can be catastrophic.
Red-bellied piranhas tend to swim as a shoal, but this is not for coordinated hunting but an act of self-defence. They often become victims of larger fish, caimans, and river dolphins, as well as birds, so like many other small animals, they band together for additional protection.