/pi rahn"yeuh, -ran"-/ or, often, /-rah"neuh, -ran"euh/, n., pl. piranhas, (esp. collectively) piranha.
any of several small South American freshwater fishes of the genus Serrasalmus that eat other fish and sometimes plants but occasionally also attack humans and other large animals that enter the water. Also called caribe.
[1865-70; < Pg < Tupi]

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Any of several species of deep-bodied, carnivorous fishes in the genus Serrasalmus (family Characidae), abundant in rivers of eastern and central South America and noted for voracity.

The red-bellied piranha (S. nattereri) grows to 2 ft (60 cm) long, but most species are smaller. Some species are silvery with an orange belly and throat; others are almost completely black. All have sharp, saw-edged teeth that close in a scissorlike bite. Traveling in groups, they usually prey on other fishes, but red-bellied piranhas occasionally converge on larger animals. Though generally scavengers, they are attracted to the scent of blood and can quickly reduce even a large animal to a skeleton.

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also called  caribe  or  piraya 

      razor-toothed, carnivorous fish of South American rivers and lakes, with a somewhat exaggerated reputation for ferocity.

      Most species of piranha never grow larger than 60 cm (2 feet) long. Colours vary from silvery with orange undersides to almost completely black. These common fishes have deep bodies, saw-edged bellies, and large, generally blunt heads with strong jaws bearing sharp, triangular teeth that meet in a scissorlike bite.

      Found from northern Argentina to Colombia, piranhas are most diverse in the Amazon River, where 20 different species are found. The most infamous is the red-bellied piranha (Serrasalmus nattereri), with the strongest jaws and sharpest teeth of all. Especially during low water, this species hunts in groups that can number more than 100. Several groups can converge in a feeding frenzy if a large animal is attacked, although this is rare. Red-bellied piranhas prefer prey that is only slightly larger than themselves or smaller. Generally a group of red-bellied piranhas spreads out to look for prey. When located, the attacking scout signals the others. This is probably done acoustically, as piranhas have excellent hearing. Everyone in the group rushes in to take a bite and then swims away to make way for the others. Most species of piranhas, however, never kill large animals, and piranha attacks on people are rare. (See also rainforest ecosystem sidebar, “.”) Although piranhas are attracted to the smell of blood, most scavenge more than they kill. Some 12 species called wimple piranhas (genus Catoprion) survive solely on morsels nipped from the fins and scales of other fishes, which then swim free to heal completely.

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