Piranha, also caribe, any of several species of freshwater fishes of South America. Although the carnivorous species are the best known, most species are herbivorous. Piranhas are compressed, oval-shaped, fine-scaled fishes 25 to 60 cm (10 to 24 in) long. Carnivorous species have blunt heads and powerful jaws with sharp, wedge-shaped teeth that mesh like cutting shears and enable the fishes to cut the flesh from prey, which consists mostly of other fishes but also includes amphibians, birds, and mammals. Carnivorous piranhas associate in large schools and are attracted by commotion and the scent of blood. Once aroused, they can quickly reduce a large mammal to a skeleton, although such incidents are rare. About four species are considered dangerous. Piranhas are also scavengers, and they are considered fine food fishes.
Scientific classification: Piranhas belong to the family Characidae of the order Characiformes. They make up the genera Pygopristis, Pygocentris,
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.