BioStudies Exotic Species Identification Guide

Silver dollars include several genera related to piranhas and pacus. Shown are Metynnis (top two), Myleus (center three), and Mylossoma (bottom two). These and other related species are commonly sold in the aquarium trade. Most are silvery in color, but all have traits that easily distinguish them from pacus and true piranhas (see details herein).

PACUS Piaractus & Colossoma
Family: Serrsalmidae

Redbellied pacu taken by an angler in a San Antonio reservoir.

Redbellied pacu or pirapatinga (Piaractus brachypomus) – a young adult captured in South America (left) and large juvenile taken by an angler in the upper Guadalupe River, Texas (right). Carnivorous South American piranhas (several genera) are widely known and have been prohibited in Texas since the 1960s. Less well known are three close relatives called pacus. Pacus mimic piranhas in color patterns, are more omnivorous, and grow far larger (to 66 lbs/30 kg). Historically, pacus were usually only seen in the U.S. in public aquaria. However, in the 1980s, large number of small juveniles became available in the pet trade. These were attractively colored with black dots on silver, with red bellies in two species. Unfortunately, they grew quickly, became unattractive charcoal gray, and attacked other fishes. Not unexpectedly, many were illegally released in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. Pacus proved highly vulnerable to angling and were frequently thought to be piranhas when taken on hook-and-line. Although literature reports indicate pacus are largely vegetarian, most seen in the U.S. are very carnivorous and even attack fishes larger than themselves. Large numbers of young pacus continue to be legally sold in Texas, as have illegal releases. Many pacus, but only two piranhas, have been documented in Texas waters.

LEGAL STATUS: Pacus are not at present prohibited by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; however, release into state waters is prohibited. Pacus have unique breeding requirements that suggest they are not likely to become established in North America. However, the large numbers sold in the pet trade in conjunction with fast growth and aggressive nature suggests future releases can be expected. NOTE: Recent genetic analysis indicated redbellied and smallscale pacus are indeed more closely related to true piranhas than to black pacu, indicating both might be considered illegal under current regulation wording.

Robert G. Howells – BioStudies
160 Bearskin Trail, Kerrville, Texas 78028 May 2009
Images and materials herein are not available for reuse or other applications without written permission of the author.

Redbellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) -

________________________________________________________ Pacu Lateral Head Ventral Gill Adipose species line scales length* serrae rakers fin ________________________________________________________ Redbellied pacu 85-105 3.0+ 50-65 < 40 not rayed P. brachypomus Smallscale pacu > 105 3.0+ 60-75 > 40 not rayed P. mesopotamicus Black pacu 60-85 < 3.0 > 80 rayed in C. macropomum adults ________________________________________________________


* into standard length Redbellied (P. brachypomus), smallscale (C. mesopotamicus), and black (C. macropomum; tambaqui) are attractively spotted as juveniles (with red bellies in the first two species), but loose the spots and red color as they grow. Older juveniles become charcoal gray and larger adults become completely dark, often with the darkest gray on the lower half of the body. True piranha species also follow very similar color patterns in some species. Pacus have jaws of near-equal length, upper lips that are bent, dark spots on their gill covers, and teeth that are conical and do not fit tightly together. Similar piranhas have protruding lower jaws, straight upper lips, some have black spots on the shoulder, and teeth that are triangular, serrated, and that fit tightly together when jaws are closed.

Piranhas Pacus Wimple piranha Pygocentrus, etc. Colossoma/Piaractus Catoprion _____________________________________________________________ Jaws lower jaw projects jaws near equal lower jaw projects Adipose fin typical typical slightly elongate Anal fin deepest deepest deepest anteriorly anteriorly anteriorly Dorsal fin typical typical long anterior rays Tooth rows single row, double row, single row, (upper jaw) close spaced not close spaced not close spaced Teeth flat, serrated conical, smooth flat, serrated


Silver dollar Silver dollar Silver dollar Metynnis Myleus Mylossoma _________________________________________________ Jaws near equal near equal near equal Adipose fin elongated typical typical Anal fin deepest deepest deepest in anteriorly anteriorly mid-section Dorsal fin typical elongated typical Tooth rows double double double (upper jaw) row row row

PACU Upper lip bent Jaws near equal PIRANHA WIMPLE PIRANHA Upper lip straight Upper lip straight Lower jaw protrudes

Spot on shoulder PIRANHA

Spot on gill cover PACU

Juvenile spots with sharp edges

Spots with obscure edges