Safety in numbers? Shoaling behaviour of the Amazonian red-bellied piranha

Helder Queiroz, Anne E Magurran

Abstract

Red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) shoals have a fearsome reputation. However, the variety and abundance of piranha predators in the flooded forests of the Amazon in which they live indicate that an important reason for shoal formation may be predator defence. Experiments using wild-caught piranhas supported the hypothesis that individual perception of risk, as revealed by elevated ventilatory frequency (opercular rate), is greater in small shoals. Moreover, exposure to a simulated predator attack by a model cormorant demonstrated that resting opercular rates are regained more quickly by piranhas in shoals of eight than they are in shoals of two. Together, these results show that shoaling has a cover-seeking function in this species.

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Footnotes

    • Received August 27, 2004.
    • Accepted September 27, 2004.
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