Jason Stanford's Piranha setup, shot late September 2013. - Image copyright & courtesy Jason Standford

Jason Stanford’s Piranha setup, shot late September 2013. Image copyright & courtesy Jason Stanford

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a video project documenting a new piranha aquarium, the work of British aquarist Jason Stanford. Jason started this project with 40 wild baby Red Bellied Piranhas, Pygocentrus nattereri, in the summer of 2013.

Stanford started with a 450L (roughly 125-gallon) aquarium as the initial growout space, outfitted with two 12,000 lph wavemakers and 2 Fluval Fx5 filters. Obviously he’s not planning on keeping 40 adults in this space, and a 250-gallon aquarium is destined to be the next step for these fish as they grow. Extra livestock has already been thinned out a bit, with 10 from this shoal already residing with a neighboring aquarist. Stanford’s target stocking level for the 250 is ultimately around 20 fish.

As you can see from the following videos, they’re growing very quickly.

August 11th, 2013; Silverside Dinner:

August 13th, 2013; Mackarel Fillet Feeding Frenzy

I asked Stanford about his experience as an aquarist and his plans for this project. “I have kept fish on and off since I was 9,” wrote Stanford, “but I am a lot more serious now since I have my own money to spend. I learnt a lot from having a Saturday job when I was about 13 in an aquarium store; they used to pay me in fish!

“Other than that I belong to a lot of forums and spend a lot of hours watching shows or reading online. I chose piranha for this project as I wanted something of a decent size that shoaled. I had a shoal before, but sold them as I wanted to try out other fish, only to realize what a mistake I had made. Starting over with piranhas gave me the chance to go bigger and better this time round.”

One of the things I noticed immediately about Jason Stanford’s piranhas was their outgoing nature and activity level; far cry from the shy fish sulking in the corner that we typically think of when it comes to Piranhas. It would seem that Stanford’s decisions to run this aquarium with live plants and internal water circulation has helped provide these fish with a comfortable home that allows them to appear at ease.

August 23rd, 2013; Causually Cruising

Stanford agrees with our “psychological assessment” of his fish. “I also think they are ‘comfy’. In shops and other owners tanks they keep them bare, as they are easier to clean. My tank has dead spots or near enough, so they can take a break from the current. It has shelter so they can hide if they choose. There’s a lot going on, lots of piranha in the shoal, so they are probably more bold feeling safety in numbers.”

There’s no denying the savagery of the piranhas, a trait that obviously draws in many of the people who keep these fish. However, seeing these fish apparently flourish adds a new dimension to the fish, a group which admittedly I’ve sometimes are written off as uncolorful, boring, an often attracting only new aquarists only want piranhas so they can stuff them full of feederfish to impress their friends with the carnage.

Stanford’s aquarium shows us there’s more to the Red Belly Piranha than a vicious eating machine, although as some of Stanford’s feeding videos demonstrate, you still get to witness the fury of a pack of fish destroying dinner if you want:

September 2nd, 2013; Feeding on Locusts

September 19th, 2013; Feeding on Nightcrawlers

Comparing the last video to the first one, you can see how quickly Stanford’s fish are coming into their own. Proper environment and husbandry can do amazing things for any fish! Clearly, one of the keys to Stanford’s success is his willingness do his homework and “read”. Nevermind that nice plant growth his tank is demonstrating as well.

Stanford continues to document his project on his Piranha VS Youtube Channel, which also includes other Piranha species he is working with. “I created this page to share my experiences and have a log of various piranha I have kept, showing the development of a red bellied piranha from egg to sexual maturity or even showing the great interaction between owner and the black piranha. I look forward to you joining me on my adventure. Please Subscribe, Comment and Give a thumbs up.”

We’ll be watching and waiting for Stanford’s 250 and maybe even his first Red Bellied Piranha spawn! Until then Jason, keep up the great work!

All videos and images by Jason Stanford