Black Piranha: Freshwater Species of the Week

Piranhas are legendary for their sharp teeth and strong jaws. Photo: Brian Clark Howard


Updated December 23, 11:45 pm

Long famous for their fearsome appearance and sharp teeth, piranhas can add another accolade to their storied reputation as formidable predators. The black piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus) has been recognized for having the strongest bite among living fish, pound for pound, according to research by Justin R. Grubich, Steve Huskey, Stephanie Crofts, Guillermo Ortí, and Jorge Porto.

Among extinct fish, the megapiranha is now thought to have the strongest bite.freshwater species of the week

The new research paper, Mega-Bites: Extreme jaw forces of living and extinct piranhas, is published in Scientific Reports, andhighlights the piranhas’ specialized jaw morphology, which allows them to attack and bite chunks out of much larger prey,” according to George Washington University, where Guillermo Ortí teaches.

There are about 20 known species of piranha in South America, and the black piranha is the largest of the carnivorous types. The fish’s bite strength had not been measured before. Orti and colleagues discovered that the fish can bite with a force more than 30 times greater than its weight.

“The powerful bite is achieved primarily due to the large muscle mass of the black piranha’s jaw and the efficient transmission of its large contractile forces through a highly modified jaw-closing lever,” reported the university’s press office.

 “The authors also reconstructed the bite force of the megapiranha, showing that for its relatively diminutive body size, the bite of this fossil piranha dwarfed that of other extinct mega-predators, including the whale-eating shark and the Devonian placoderm. Research at the Ortí lab at GW continues to focus on reconstructing the genealogical tree of fishes including piranhas based on genomic data.”

So although piranha might not be quite as fierce as Teddy Roosevelt thought in 1913, they can still cause some damage.


Guillermo Orti piranhas
Guillermo Orti studies piranhas. Photo: George Washington University


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science,,,, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.