Can You Buy Piranhas? And How Should You Keep Them?

Piranha fish is an interesting species to keep, but many people, governments, and even hobbyists have a negative opinion about this fish. The fact that when starved, they can devour an animal to the bones in a matter of seconds has made many governments of different countries prohibit the sale and ownership of this fish species.

But if you are a citizen of a state where it is legal to own and rear piranhas, how can you buy piranhas, and how should you keep them?

This article discusses the legality of owning piranhas in some states and a few care guide tips for keeping them.

Read on to find out!

About Piranhas

Piranhas are a freshwater fish species endemic to the Amazon basin. They are native to the rivers in the Orinoco basin, in Guianas, in the Paraguayan Parana river, and a few other surrounding freshwater bodies.

This fish is a member of the Serrasalmidae family. Although it eats plant matter occasionally, this fish is a very deadly carnivore, notorious for devouring other fish for food. The piranha is a relatively big fish. It grows to only about 5 – 14 inches, depending on the species.

Some other species grow bigger, however. A good example is the popular Red-Bellied Piranha which can grow as big as 20 inches.

They are notorious for being ferocious predators; many species usually hunt as a school.

Can You Buy Piranhas?

In many states, it is illegal to own and keep piranhas. But in the states where it is legal to own them, some city councils and counties have local laws prohibiting piranhas’ sale and ownership.

Here is a list of states where it is legal to own and keep piranhas:

  • New Hampshire
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Rhode Island
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • North and South Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming
  • Delaware
  • Kansas`
  • Maryland
  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Iowa
  • New Jersey
  • Indiana
  • West Virginia
  • Ohio

Take note that in the State of Ohio, although it is legal to buy and keep piranhas, some councils and counties have made local laws that prohibit the sale and rearing of piranhas.

You want to check the local laws to confirm the legality of buying and keeping piranhas. This will help you avoid any likely prosecution and heavy penalty fines.

In other states, there is either an outright ban on the sale and keeping of piranhas or some serious restrictive ordinances. These states are:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • New York
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Louisiana
  • Idaho
  • Oklahoma
  • California
  • Arizona
  • North and South Carolina
  • Utah
  • New Mexico
  • Colorado
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Mississippi
  • Washington
  • Nevada
  • Florida
  • Georgia

In these states, there is an outright ban on the ownership and sale of exotic and invasive species, especially species that pose a danger to the local fauna and flora of the state, including piranhas.

In the few states where the ownership and sale of piranhas are not outrightly banned, there are heavy regulations guarding the sale and ownership of this fish.

This prohibition is not limited to the United States; other countries have laws that make ownership and rearing of piranhas illegal. One notorious example is the Philippines.

In the Philippines, importers of piranhas can face as much as six months to four years of incarceration. The piranhas are also destroyed to avoid a possible population spread in the local water bodies.

But in some other countries where it is not illegal, the climate conditions make it difficult and even impossible in some cases to own and keep piranhas.

A very good example is Canada. There is hardly any law or local legislation prohibiting the ownership and rearing of piranhas. But the climatic conditions of the country make it challenging to keep piranhas.

How Much for Piranhas?

If you are living in a state where it is not illegal to own piranhas, the next question as a piranha enthusiast is how much a piranha costs.

The popular aquarium species is the Red Belly Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri ). There is no fixed price for piranhas. Generally, the price varies according to the size of the fish and the supplier.

However, the average cost of piranhas in the range of 2 – 2.5 inches is $30. Smaller sizes will usually cost less, about $5. Some may also sell for about $10 or $15. A lot of factors affect the prices, including the specific species you are buying.

For instance, a Red-Bellied piranha of about 4 inches will cost around $20 – $25. Other suppliers or fish stores may sell at a higher price because the species is aggressive.

Sometimes, scarcity of a species also causes a price hike in fish stores. You may have to buy it at a whopping $400 – $500!

Whatever the case, you want to check with more than one fish store or supplier to get a fair price.

How Should You Keep Piranhas?

Piranhas are not your regular aquarium fish. You need to know what to do to keep them alive and the safe ways to handle them so that you do not get hurt.

The most effective way to keep piranhas is to replicate their natural environment and provide their natural diet.

Water Parameters

The appropriate water parameters are crucial because piranhas are predatory fish species that make a lot of mess. You want to keep the water in the temperature range of 75°f – 86°f. This is the temperature range of their natural habitat.

To maintain the temperature, it is recommended that you get an aquarium water heater to maintain a stable temperature. Rapid changes in water parameters usually stress aquarium fish.

You also want to ensure that your aquarium has a powerful filtration system to remove the piranha fish’s waste.

Water hardness should be anywhere between 9 – 14 dGH. A pH level between 6.0 – 7.5 is ideal for keeping them thriving.

You also want to adjust your pump control to ensure the water flow is slow. Piranhas live in shallow water in the Amazon basin, where water flow is slow. Anything else will ultimately lead to stress.

Maintenance Routine

Water changes are a must for piranhas to keep them safe. Changing about 15% of your aquarium water is important to keep the water clean, oxygenated, and less contaminated. You want to do this every 5-7 days, routinely.

This routine maintenance will help you take out waste that the filter could not take.

Many aquarists also use many small filters in the aquarium. They do this so that they do not have to change all the filter media at once. This is a great way to ensure that some beneficial bacteria are always in the aquarium.


Interestingly, piranhas are omnivores, contrary to the popular belief that they are deadly carnivores. However, their diet significantly consists of more meat than plant matter. You can give them live and frozen foods.

They will do great with small feeder fish, bloodworms, crustaceans like brine shrimp, and feeder insects. Piranhas will also eat plants and vegetables. If you fail to feed them, you might soon notice your aquatic plants slowly disappearing.

Most importantly, you want to ensure that you feed your piranha only quality fish food. Carnivore pellets and plant-based flakes will do just great.

Also, it is vital that you only feed your piranha once a day to avoid overfeeding. If you must feed more than once, it would be best to set aside the day’s portion and divide it into the number of times you wish to feed your fish; preferably 2-3.

Tank Size and Decoration

There is no universal tank size for piranhas as the number of fish, and the size of each fish will determine the specific size for your aquarium. But a safe rule you can use is 2 gallons per inch of a single fish.

However, you can use a 25-gallon tank for baby piranhas. But remember that they will outgrow the tank. So it would be best to prepare a bigger tank in time.

For older piranhas, you need a tank of no less than 100 gallons or more, especially if you are keeping a school.

You can keep live plants in the aquarium, but you want to avoid rock and other decorations with sharp edges.

Tank Mates

It is best to keep a species-only tank. You can keep a school of about 5 to 6 or more piranhas. If you keep them with smaller fish, you can expect them to devour the fish for food whenever you forget to feed them.

If you want to keep them with other species, it would be best to keep them with a predatory fish that is big enough to be respected. Although they might take a bite from the bigger fish’s fin now and then, they should cohabit just fine.

You also want to take the aggression level into account. It is not uncommon to find them harassing a very docile fish species.

Bottom Line

As pet owners, it is important to be on the good side of the law. It is a way of protecting the privilege of keeping pets while respecting the authorities’ decisions.

Remember that experts make these decisions. They have evaluated the pros and cons of allowing such species into the state and the cost of controlling any sudden proliferation of an invasive species.