Invasive Red-bellied piranha found in B.C. lake twice this summer

CBC News Reports: An angler in Nanaimo, B.C., had a surprise this week when he reeled in his catch.

The province’s Conservation Officer Service said the fisherman caught a red-bellied piranha at Westwood Lake, a popular fishing and swimming hole near the Vancouver Island city.

The service said it’s the second piranha caught at the lake since the summer and the fish were probably unwanted pets.

Piranhas are a tropical fish and wouldn’t likely survive a B.C. winter, the service said, but it’s reminding the public that it’s illegal to release an invasive aquatic species.

Foreign fish can threaten native species and ecosystems, the service said. The crime comes with a fine of up to $100,000 and/or a prison term of up to 12 months.

Agressive feeding fish

Kasandra Munroe, an employee at Creatures Pet Store in Victoria, said the fish are fairly popular.

“If someone likes an aggressive feeding fish they’re gonna want a piranha,” Munroe said, adding that the store has sold about 60 of them in the past year.

Despite horror movie lore, Munroe said the piranha was unlikely to be a problem for anyone spending time at the lake.

She said they would only be likely to attack large prey if they were starving and swimming as part of a larger school of piranhas.

Munroe also emphasized the need for more resources to take in people’s unwanted pets.

“When a lot of people get certain fish, they run out of the space to care for it or they suddenly can’t afford to feed it,” she said.

“And as much as this particular store likes to try, we can’t take in everybody’s abandoned fish.”

Munroe recommends that anyone trying to get rid of a fish contact local hobbyist clubs.

Source: CBC News

2 Replies to “Invasive Red-bellied piranha found in B.C. lake twice this summer”

  1. So shall we get to know a little about our new neighbor before we invite him or her over for dinner or a late night snack? Great! Let’s sink our teeth into the gory details and chew the fat for a few minutes.

    Piranhas are South American fish with razor-sharp teeth and a reputation for feeding frenzies. In fact, piranha means “tooth fish” in the Brazilian language of the Tupi people. However, not all piranha species have a taste for blood; some are vegetarian.

    Many different fish are called “piranha,” but the number of species is a matter of debate, according to Piranha-Info. “New unidentified species, regional varieties and color forms are discovered, and new and/or updated research data … is published on a fairly regular basis,” the website said. Based on current data, there are between 40 and 60 different species of piranha in 12 different scientific families. Two species, Pygocentrus and Serrasalmus, are popular as aquarium fish, according to Piranha-Info. The most commonly known species is Pygocentrus natterei, the red-bellied piranha.

    Size :
    Most piranhas don’t get any bigger than 2 feet (60 centimeters) long. For example, the red-bellied piranha and the piraya piranha grow to about 20 inches (51 cm) long, while the black spot piranha grows to about 11 inches (28 cm), according to FishBase.

    Habitat :
    All piranhas live in South America in rivers and lakes, and 20 different species are found in the Amazon River, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Some piranhas have been found around the world, but these are thought to be pets that were released into waterways. In some U.S. states, it is illegal to transport, purchase, possess or sell piranhas; other states require permits, according to the Oregon Piranha Exotic Fish Exhibit (O.P.E.F.E.).

    Habits :
    Piranhas live in groups called a shoal. It is a popular belief that these fish travel in groups so that they can overwhelm prey in a choreographed feeding frenzy. Scientists, however, think they travel together as a form of protection from predators, according to National Geographic. That’s not to say that frenzies never occur. When threatened, the shoal will group together with other shoals to take down the predator.

    Diet :
    Most piranhas get a bad rap as terrifying predators that will tear to shreds any flesh that dares dip into its waters. This actually isn’t true. Some piranhas are omnivorous and eat more seeds than meat, according to Smithsonian magazine. Some species are vegetarian. A species discovered in 2013, Tometes camunani, for example, lives on river weeds, according to Smithsonian. Others species eat shrimp, crustaceans, worms, carrion and other fish. Attacks on humans are very rare.

    The red-bellied piranha is considered one of the more dangerous and aggressive species of piranha, according to the Animal Diversity Web. Generally, when red-bellied piranhas are feeding normally, the fish will spread out, and a scout will signal when a food source is found. When alerted, piranhas are very orderly. Some of the fish will take a bite and then move aside so another fish can take a bite. Just one red-bellied piranha can eat around 2.46 grams per day, or around one-eighth its body mass, according to the Smithsonian.

    Wimpel piranhas (Catoprion mento) are very sneaky. They have been observed swimming very quickly toward a target and biting hard as they collide. They will nip bits of fins and scales from other fishes to survive, according to Seriously Fish.

    Offspring :
    Female piranhas lay thousands of eggs at a time in the sand below the water source where they live. The red-bellied piranha female, for example, lays her eggs in a nest that is dug by her mate.

    After the male fertilizes the eggs, they attach to plants at the bottom of the water source and hatch within just a few days. Piranhas live up to eight years.

    Other Facts :
    Red-bellied piranhas bark to warn predators to leave them alone.

    The piranha’s top and bottom teeth work together like scissors to cut up food. They lose and regrow teeth, much like sharks.

    Theodore Roosevelt spread a lot of scary information about these fish in his book, “Through the Brazilian Wilderness,” about his travels to South America in 1913.

    Piranhas have very strong jaws for clamping down on prey. The black piranha has the strongest bite force recorded for bony fish, according to this 2012 study by scientist Justin R. Grubich and his team.

    Another interesting source of information concerning the Piranha can be found at :

    So Ladies and Gentlemen, other than being an invasive species as we see in B.C. and as Franklin D. Roosevelt once told Americans, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

  2. While Calvin Pennell’s post is correct, as far as it goes, there are a couple of factors about the illegal introduction of invasive species that he ignored. Foreign species of fish released into the lakes and rivers of BC can be carrying diseases or parasites that could infect our local species, exactly like what is happening on the BC coast because of the open water net pens being used to raise Atlantic salmon. I refer to piscine reovirus (PRV). Having kept aquarium fish numerous times in the past I am also aware of the many different types of disease and parasites that they can be carrying, the release of these fish into our lakes and streams could result in the transfer of these infections to our native species, with potentially disastrous results. A further problem results if these foreign species should be able to adapt to the conditions that they find themselves in. They could cause problems similar to those encountered in some lakes in the interior of BC where people have been illegally introducing foreign species like yellow perch. A few years back the provincial fisheries had to use rotenone to clear several lakes that originally were stocked with rainbow trout. After discovering what had been going on, and correcting the problem by applying the rotenone, it was found that there were only a handful of trout that had survived the introduction of the yellow perch, which had predated on the trout and out competed them for food. When fisheries came back to check on the “clearing” of the lakes the shores were literally covered with yellow perch, with almost no trout present. The lakes have since had trout re-introduced. Penalties for this crime should be sufficient to deter anyone contemplating this illegal, and environmentally criminal, activity.

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