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I've been keeping piranhas on and off now for over 30 years, and I'm often asked what diet I feed to help stimulate a good growth rate and color on my fish. Although I have modified my approach a little over the years, I have always believed that adult piranhas do best on a diet that consists primarily of whole fish. This means with the guts and fins still intact, which more closely replicates the piranha's natural diet in the wild. However, there are other foods which the piranha may or may not have available in his natural habitat that I also feel will benefit him in terms of health, color, and a strong growth rate. Krill and shrimp (shell intact), as well as earthworms, are two natural foods which are loaded with nutritional value. However, many hobbyists do not have instant success in getting their captive piranhas to accept these new "foods", and as a result miss out on the superior quality that they can add to the diet. So this thread is one method that I have had success with over the years to "train" my piranhas to recognize and benefit from these two food sources with the same eagerness that they do when eating live and frozen fish.

First off and very important, this method has a slight amount of risk to it when dealing with piranhas which are kept in a shoal. I say again that the risk is only slight, because I don't feel that nearly as many acts of cannibalism are performed by our captive piranha due to hunger as what is commonly thought. It has been observed by myself and several other experienced piranha keepers (I believe I read somewhere that Frank did an actual experiment on this) that pygo shoals can and have undergone quite lengthy periods of time without eating, and still did not result to turning on members of their own shoal as a food source. This is not to say that it will never happen eventually, because at some point it certainly will. But the span of time that normally exists before a healthy shoal would begin to eat each other to survive is much greater than most hobbyists will ever experience. I personally believe that many of the acts of cannibalism that occur in our tanks with young adults or mature fish are due to hormonal changes triggered by a pre-breeding stage that the fish is entering into, but then that is a whole different thread for another time.

Okay, now back to the method itself. When I get a new piranha (or shoal), I begin with a four week program of fattening them up a bit to ensure that they have a healthy amount of fat storage that can be tapped into during the lean times that I am soon to introduce. It is very important that you do not skip this phase before "training" your piranhas, otherwise you cannot be sure that they are well equipped enough to handle the period of fasting that their bodies may have to endure. So start them off with an easily recognized and nutritious food such as whole frozen fish, and offer them as much food as they want every other day Do not use live fish, as this requires that their food be caught, and doesn't necessarily insure that ALL members of the shoal are getting all they need. After this period of about a month (this period may vary a bit according to the individual condition of the fish or shoal), you are ready to introduce your new foods.

I usually offer the shellfish first, since it can be left in the tank overnight and does not require immediate removal if your piranhas don't eat it. Add the food to the tank before you go to bed, and leave it there until morning. If it is not eaten when you get up, take it out of the tank and do not offer it again until the next scheduled feeding (about 36 hours later, if you are feeding every other day). Resist the urge to watch your fish eat the new food, as this may only distract them from investigating it due to your presence. There will be plenty of time later to watch them eat, once they are aggressively hitting the food before it hits the bottom of the tank. Also, be sure to put in an amount that is a little less than you feel they need. This will make them even more aggressive the next feeding, if some or all of them are left a little hungry. Whatever you do, once you have introduced the new food, do NOT offer the piranha(s) any other type of food until they have begun to readily eat the one you are training them on. If you stray from this, they will simply hold out for the food which they already are familiar with! This will take patience and determination on your part, as you may even start to see your piranha lose some weight during this time while he waits you out and (though unconsciously) tries to "train" you. In general, single tank specimens may go for up to three weeks before beginning to readily take the new food, but pygos and other shoals will usually start eating new food much sooner. This is because of the competitiveness to eat that a shoal shares, and there are usually a few members that are better eaters or even hungrier than the rest and will lead the others to eating by example. If fact, I have never had a pygo shoal take more than 10 days to accept a new food, and my serras have never lasted more than 20 days. They WILL eat these foods I mentioned, but you have to be stubborn enough to wait them out.

Once you have them eating the shellfish regularly and have been rotating it in with the whole fish for another month, it is time to introduce your piranhas to earthworms. Be sure to first go through another month of your piranha(s) eating well, to again insure that your fish have a healthy storage of fat to sustain them through a period of more fasting if necessary. For some reason, many piranhas do not readily recognize earthworms as food, and sometimes require getting pretty hungry before they will try them out. In addition, earthworms have the nasty tendency to bury themselves in your gravel or sand bottom, so you will need to only introduce a few at a time and then make sure you note where the uneaten ones tunnel down so you can retrieve them soon before they rot. I drop earthworms in two or three at a time for a shoal, and one at a time for a single specimen tank. Once you notice that the fish are not grabbing them and mouthing them (or hopefully eating them) any longer, take the uneaten ones out of the tank until the next scheduled feeding. Obviously, you do not want to leave earthworms in the tank overnight.

The whole idea behind this concept of training your piranhas to eat high quality foods that YOU choose is simply to achieve long term fast growth rates as well as stunning color and superior health. I have seen that although my piranhas have a slower growth rate at the beginning while I am putting them through the training and fasting process, they usually put on more size and are much healthier and colorful after six months with my current program than what they have been exhibiting in the past when I used to let them pretty much eat whatever they preferred and were used to. I have found that by not getting into a hurry to get the results I am looking for, I can get better results that will keep my fish growing strong and healthy for many years to come. In fact, I am fortunate to be able to say that I have never lost a fish to disease in all the years that I have kept piranhas.

One more important note. I do not recommend this training program for baby piranhas. That is, at least not with the timeframes that I recommended above. Piranhas 3" and under need frequent feedings or they will not survive very long, so keep that in mind when introducing new foods to them. On the other hand, since they are young and haven't yet established in their minds what foods are edible and what foods are not, they also are more ready to try new things than some of the wild caught adults that I have acquired in the past. For this reason I have usually found it pretty easy to get young piranhas to accept shellfish and earthworms with minimal difficulty. And the younger the piranhas are when you start them on a diet like this, the healthy they will be. Even more importantly to me since I am a bit of a size nut, I like knowing that my fish have been eating ultra high quality food from a very young age. That way I know for certain that they have never had to endure a period in their lives where they may have experienced inadequate or inferior nutrition, so they are less likely to have any stunted growth as a result. So I then know that if I provide my young piranhas with superior water quality and keep them on a premium diet, only their genetic footprint can hinder their potential to grow to a massive potential size. And that too is another topic for another thread in the future.
 

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Serras n Snakes
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Interesting reading!! Thanks for sharing!!
 

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In Istanbul we won it 5 times!
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excellent post...and I'm looking forward to all these others you mentioned
 

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Great article. That is extremely helpful information that I will definitely keep in mind. Fortunately the only piranhas I own right now are babies and have taken to freeze-dried krill already. They have some similiar sized tigerbarbs in the tank with them right now that I think got them into the krill because for a while they would only grab the mini cichlid pellets but they have begun going for the krill since (assumingly) they saw the barbs do so.
 

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Gd info m8!!! will give it a go!! See how i get on wiv da worms!!!
 

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Excellent read !!! too many hobbyists keep their piranhas on only feeders or one type of food due to the fish's rejection of change. How do you feel about pushing cichlid or carnivorous pellets into the shrimp ? I have begun to get great colour on my piraya with this.

Thanx again for fantastic read, P-Fury is lucky to have you


Joe
 

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great post!!!
I'll be trying it out when my rhom grows a bit more, he doesn't seem to like to try new things even though he's a juvi
 

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OPEFE
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Valuable info...
!
 

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I HAVE THE SOUVLAKI POWER!!!!!
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Very interesting observations John!!!

Thanks for sharing!!!!!
 

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Thanks Knifeman! I just started to learn about piranhas and I have been trying to learn as much as I can. I never owned any fish before, and this new found hobby is GREAT. And congratulations on your new position at P-Fury!


Shane...
 

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hastatus said:
rint Posted on Apr 14 2004, 05:28 PM
This should be Pinned... under the Nutrion Thread.
Certainly agree.
I too agree, this post should be pinned.

We are lucky to have you here at P-Fury!!!! I am looking forward to learning much from your expierences!!! Welcome aboard.
 

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Very great post.

I have one question though (not really a question, wanna know what you think) :
You say that you give the Ps fish like they get in nature. I saw the documentry WITW and the documentry says the Ps eat the sick and the weak. Also I read that many plp dont give there Ps sick fish wich I can understand but if thats their nature why not. Your thoughts? :
 

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In Istanbul we won it 5 times!
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mechanic_joe said:
How do you feel about pushing cichlid or carnivorous pellets into the shrimp ? I have begun to get great colour on my piraya with this.
Yeah Im also wondering about your views on this, do you think it will be beneficial in both giving the P's extra nutrition it needs and also help its colour?

I was also wondering on your views about the growth in Serras...do you think that a good diet like this would speed up its growth rate more so than alot of us hobbyists get at the moment?
 

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Great info! Knifeman, have you tried adding pellets in your p's diets? I know its hard to get adult specimens to accept it but I think they are also very healthy for them. When I had a shoal of baby super reds, I put the green and red pellets into the beefheart and they ate it. I tried to do the same with my old adult cariba shoal for two weeks but they left it alone after one bight. I'd really like to see the results of your shoal, especially if you have any pirayas. Do you have pics from before and after?
 
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