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Q & A
Pacu, not Piranha
Question
I read somewhere that someone caught a piranha on the Ohio or Allegheny River. What's the story?
Answer

PacuThe fish are most likely pacu, and not piranha. Some 20 species of pacu are found in Brazil. The largest may attain length of 31 inches and weigh in excess of 40 pounds.

They will eat about anything but most favor vegetables and fruit. One reference indicated a good place to catch them is where a fruit tree overhangs a stream. Pacu are considered a tropical delicacy when barbecued or smoked.

The chances are good that the specimens caught in Pennsylvania waters are red-bellied pacu. This is one of the more common species sold in tropical fish stores. The going rate is about $4 for a 1.5 inch fish. They are definitely vegetarians. And it may not be unusual for well cared for specimens to "out grow" their aquarium homes.

Pacu teethPacu have much smaller teeth than do piranha and are usually stubby as for a typical herbivore. Pacu teeth are small and square, more molar-like (for grinding) than piranha teeth which are large, jagged and sharp.

It is unlikely that these tropical fish will survive in Pennsylvania waters. Under Pennsylvania law, it is unlawful to stock or place these species of fish in state waters. The Fish and Boat Commission maintains a list of species authorized for placement in Pennsylvania waters.

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