Serrasalmus spilopleura – Speckled Piranha

Serrasalmus spilopleura or Speckled Piranha is one of the few Serrasalmus that can also be kept in a group, solitary is often better!

Serrasalmus spilopleura

Serrasalmus spilopleura was officially described by Kner in 1858. Its common name is Speckled Piranha.


Baby Serrasalmus spilopleura are very similar to the hatchlings of other piranha species, including Pygocentrus Piranhas. They are silver in colour, often with a greenish cast across the flanks, covered with numerous small black dots, and the head is very concave in shape. The older the fish gets, the more convex the shape of the head becomes: very old specimens can sometimes even be confused with Pygocentrus piranhas.

Adults have a yellowish silver ground colour, while the belly, lower jaw and lower part of the gill covers (roughly to the lateral line) are golden-like yellows. Some specimens retain a faint black dot pattern on the flanks throughout their life, but this often does not occur.

The paired fins are yellow to orange in colour, sometimes with a black border, while the dorsal and adipose fins are coloured dark grey. The caudal fin is light grey in colour, with a dark caudal root and a dark rim. Typical for this species is a very thin (at most a few millimetres wide) semi-transparent terminal band – the so-called “hyaline edge”.

Maximum Size: About 30 centimetres.


There are a number of regional variants of this species, of which it has not yet been established whether these are actually variations or separate species. For example, certain specimens from the Rio Araguaia area have a bright orange-red belly, gill covers and lower body. Other variations have a purplish glow on the flanks. Finally, some adult specimens have a black spot behind the gill covers ranging from very faint to very clearly visible and are completely absent in others.

Distinctive / unique appearances

Caudal fin has a colourless terminal band (hyaline edge).


This species is found in the basin of the Rio Guaporé, Brazil.

The Aquarium

This is one of the few Serrasalmus species that has been kept more or less successfully in a group. It is important to note that this species is not schooling, as do the piranhas of the genus Pygocentrus: rather this is a kind of tense coexistence, as they continue to prey on each other’s fins. They are much less tolerant of conspecifics. To achieve this, a particularly spacious aquarium is required, with each fish having at least 150 litres at its disposal.

However, most people keep this species solitary – something that is also highly recommended. Temperature: 24-30 ° C, pH: 5.5-7.5.

Compatible Species

The Spilopleura Piranha is one of the few Serrasalmus species that can be kept (reasonably) successfully in a group, provided the aquarium is spacious enough for each animal to claim territory, and it is provided with a large number of hiding places. Nevertheless, it is advisable to keep this species solitary: they will always be fin-biters, with an aggressive and unpredictable nature: Keeping a group of this species is only recommended for experienced piranha keepers!

Nevertheless, it is advisable to keep this species solitary: they will always be fin-biters, with an aggressive and unpredictable character. With enough hiding places, a catfish, such as a Pleco or Thorny Catfish, can be placed to take care of any food debris, but there is no guarantee that this will go well. Other fish are unsuitable for keeping with this species.


This species is an outspoken carnivore, and its diet consists mainly of fish (fillet, frozen whole fish and live fish *), shrimp, krill, mussels, squid, earthworms, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and tubifex. In some cases tablets, nuts and seeds are also eaten.

In the wild as well as in captivity, Spilopleura Piranha is a parasitic boarder, living off the scales and fins of other fish: this is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to keep this species in a group.

As they age, the diet shifts more towards meat food, but the parasitic lifestyle will never completely disappear.

* When feeding live fish, there are a number of things to keep in mind: First, all fish can introduce diseases and/or parasites into the aquarium, including goldfish, Idus and other commonly used cold water fish as well as tropical fish. It is therefore also advisable to keep feed fish in a quarantine aquarium for a week or 2, in order to “flush out” the sick and weakened specimens. In addition, it should be taken into account that goldfish and close relatives are not particularly nutritious. A diet that usually consists of live fish is therefore not recommended. All the more because goldfish and other Cyprinidae (carp-like) contain hormones – so-called “Thiaminase / Vitamin B1 inhibitors” – which paralyze the production of certain growth-stimulating substances in predatory fish. A very one-sided goldfish diet can therefore lead to growth and development disorders!

It may take a while for the fish to accept prepared food: if this is the case, make sure the fish is well-fed with live food, then allow a fast of one week to 12 days. During this period, feed the desired prepared food with the lighting dimmed or switched off. If it doesn’t work the first time, supplement with live food and try again. Piranhas can go without food for a few weeks without any problems, so the fish is not at risk during this “cure” (except for specimens smaller than 8 centimetres!).


Experts think that Spilopleura Piranha is part of a complex of similar variants or species. The differences between the various forms are most likely caused by regional differences in habitat, the chemical composition of the water and diet.

Besides Pygocentrus nattereri, and more recently Pygocentrus cariba, Serrasalmus sanchezi and Serrasalmus maculatus, this is one of the few piranha species that has been bred in captivity.



Jonas Hansel –

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Length maximum in cm


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