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Serrasalmus brandtii LÜTKEN, 1875

White Piranha

SynonymsTop ↑

Serrasalmo brandtii Lütken, 1875


Serrasalmus: from the Latin serra, meaning ‘saw’, and salmo, meaning ‘salmon’, the former in reference to the serrated ventral keel in genus members, and the latter to the original placement of the type species in the genus Salmo.

brandtii: unspecified, but possibly named in honour of German naturalist Johann Friedrich von Brandt (1802-1879).


Order: Characiformes Family: Serrasalmidae


Possibly restricted to the rio São Francisco watershed in eastern Brazil, where it has been recorded throughout the system including major tributaries including the rios das Velhas, Grande, and Urucuia. It may also occur in the rio Itapicuru which is located south of the São francisco but is not connected to it. An introduced population inhabits the Pedra do Cavalo reservoir on the rio Paraguaçu, Bahia state.

Type locality is ‘Lagoa Santa, Minas Gerais State, Brazil’.


Has been recorded from main river channels, floodplain lakes, and appears to thrive in reservoirs formed by dam construction.

Maximum Standard Length

200 – 250 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

An aquarium measuring at least 1500 ∗ 60 ∗ 60 cm is required to house a single specimen.


Choice of décor is not as critical as water quality and the amount of open swimming-space provided. Serrasalmids can behave skittishly when maintained in completely bare set-ups, however, therefore it is recommended to provide a degree of cover in the form of driftwood and/or surface vegetation.

Serrasalmus spp. typically produce a lot of waste so the use of one or more over-sized external filters is essential. If possible buy units with built-in heaterstats or at least fit a sturdy heater-guard since adults are capable of damaging submerged equipment. Sump systems also work well, and the heaterstat can be housed within.

Aim to change 30-50% of the aquarium volume each week and exercise extreme care when performing such maintenance or when netting the fish for any reason.

Water Conditions

Temperature20 – 26 °C

pH5.0 – 8.0

Hardness36 – 357 ppm


Serrasalmus species tend to be somewhat opportunistic feeders in the wild, although they display a preference for small fishes, chunks of fish flesh, and fish fins.

In the aquarium small individuals can be offered chironomid larvae (bloodworm), small earthworms, chopped shellfish and suchlike, while adults will accept strips of fish flesh, live river shrimp, larger earthworms, etc.

This species should not be fed mammalian or avian meat such as beef heart or chicken since some of the lipids contained in these cannot be properly metabolised by the fish and can cause excessive fat deposition and even organ degeneration. Similarly, there is no benefit in the use of ‘feeder’ fish such as livebearers or small goldfish which carry the risk of parasite or disease introduction, and tend not have a high nutritional value unless properly conditioned beforehand.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Best maintained alone as a single specimen.

Sexual Dimorphism



Unrecorded in aquaria. Studies of wild populations indicate that S. brandtii remains reproductively active throughout the year, depositing batches of eggs when environmental conditions are favourable, with a peak of activity during the wet season.

NotesTop ↑

This species is also known as ‘green piranha’ or ‘Brandt’s pirambeba’, the latter a general vernacular term for Serrasalmus species which may have been first applied to S. brandtii. It appears infrequently in the aquarium trade but its name is sometimes misapplied to the distantly related Pygopristis denticulata.

A number of sources state that S. brandtii can be identified by the relatively anterior position of the anal-fin origin beneath the first few dorsal-fin rays. However, images of specimens collected from the rio São Francisco, where it is the only member of the genus present, suggest that this is not always the case and this is also supported by the figure from Eigenmann (1915). No recent diagnosis of the species is available.

Adult individuals are uniformly golden-bronze with some reflective scales on the flanks. The caudal-fin is dark at the base, and the dorsal, adipose, anal, and caudal fins have dark margins with the remainder often reddish or yellowish. The upper head profile is distinctly concave above the eye. Juveniles possess dark spots on the body, the fins are mostly hyaline, and the head profile is less concave.

The family Serrasalmidae contains 16 genera comprising the piranhas, pacus and relatives. Their characteristic features include a compressed body shape, long dorsal fin with 16 or more rays, and a variable number of sharp serrae formed by modified abdominal scales on the ventral surface. They are found in numerous habitat-types from lowland floodplains and flooded forests to upstream headwaters, and occur in all major South American river systems east of the Andes. Some species perform unique ecological functions such as seed dispersal, or sustain important inland fisheries and aquaculture projects.

Members display three main feeding habits: carnivory (flesh-eating), frugivory (fruit and seed-eating) and lepidophagy (eating the scales and fins of other fishes). Carnivorous species normally possess a single row of tricuspid teeth on each jaw, frugivores tend to have two series of incisor or molariform teeth on the premaxilla, one row of teeth on the dentaries and often a pair of symphyseal teeth, while in lepidophages the teeth are tuberculate and located on the outer edge of the premaxilla.

The evolutionary history of serrasalmids has been studied by various authors, with the most recent analyses (Thompson et al., 2014) supporting the existence of three major clades within the family. The “pacu” clade contains the genera Colossoma, Mylossoma and Piaractus, the “true piranha” clade includes Metynnis, Pygopristis, Pygocentrus, Pristobrycon, Catoprion, and Serrasalmus, and the Myleus clade comprises the Myleus-like pacus.


  1. Lütken, C. F., 1875 - Oversigt over det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskabs Forhandlinger og dets Medlemmers Arbeider (Kjøbenhavn) 1874(3): 127-143
    Characinae novae Brasiliae centralis a clarissimo J. Reinhardt in provincia Minas-Geraes circa oppidulum Lagoa Santa in lacu ejusdem nominis, flumine Rio das Velhas et rivulis affluentibus collectae, secundum characteres essentiales breviter descriptae.
  2. Anderson, J. T., T, Nuttle, J. S. Saldaña Rojas, T. H. Pendergast and A. S. Flecker, 2009 - Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 278(1723): 3329-3335
    Extremely long-distance seed dispersal by an overfished Amazonian frugivore.
  3. de Jesus Trindade, M. E. and R. Jucá-Chagas, 2010 - Neotropical Ichthyology 6(4): 645-650
    Diet of two serrasalmin species, Pygocentrus piraya and Serrasalmus brandtii (Teleostei: Characidae), along a stretch of the rio de Contas, Bahia, Brazil.
  4. Eigenmann, C. H., 1915 - Annals of the Carnegie Museum 9(3-4): 226-272
    The Serrasalminae and Mylinae.
  5. Freeman, B., L. G. Nico, M. Osentoski, H. L. Jelks and T. M. Collins, 2007 - Zootaxa 1484: 1-38
    Molecular systematics of Serrasalmidae: Deciphering the identities of piranha species and unraveling their evolutionary histories.
  6. Honorato-Sampaio, K., G. B. Santos, N. Bazzoli, and E. Rizzo, 2009 - Journal of Fish Biology 75: 1874-1882
    Observations on the seasonal breeding biology and fine structure of the egg surface in the white piranha Serrasalmus brandtii from the São Francisco River basin, Brazil.
  7. Hubert, N., F. Duponchelle, J. Nunez, C. Garcia-Davila, D. Paugy, and J. F. Renno, 2007 - Molecular Ecology 16(10): 2115-2136
    Phylogeography of the piranha genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus: implications for the diversification of the Neotropical ichthyofauna.
  8. Ortí, G., A. Sivasundar, K. Dietz, and M. Jégu, 2008 - Genetics and Molecular Biology 31(1): 343-351
    Phylogeny of the Serrasalmidae (Characiformes) based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.
  9. Reis, R. E., S. O. Kullander and C. J. Ferraris, Jr. (eds), 2003 - EDIPUCRS, Porto Alegre: i-xi + 1-729
    Check list of the freshwater fishes of South and Central America. CLOFFSCA.
  10. Thompson, A. W., R. Betancur-R., H. López-Fernández and G. Ortí, 2014 - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 81: 242-257
    A time-calibrated, multi-locus phylogeny of piranhas and pacus (Characiformes: Serrasalmidae) and a comparison of species tree methods.

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