Are piranhas edible

Horror films often show piranhas as murderous beasts: In a matter of seconds, it is said, they can gnaw whole people down to the skeleton. Just a Myth? Or do we really have to fear for our lives when we encounter piranhas?
Piranhas hunt in the waters of the Amazon and Orinoco Delta. Often referred to as the “bulldogs” of the rivers, they have huge lips that protect their teeth. Pictures of piranhas often do not correspond to their actual appearance: their lips are cut off to make the teeth look dangerous. They are still considered to be beasts that tear apart everything that comes before their sharp teeth.

But this assessment is unfair: Piranhas rather specialize in carrion, sick and wounded animals. Some species even feed on fruits. The fish are also considered the health police of South America: As scavengers, they clean the waters of every carcass. Piranhas thus fulfill an important function in the rivers of South America: By eating sick and dead animals, they prevent diseases from spreading.

Especially in the Amazon and Orinoco regions you can find the bite-strong, up to forty centimeters large fish. Within their crush, they fight the order of precedence. They intimidate each other with imposing behavior and threatening gestures. If an animal is injured in the process, the rest of the flock can attack and eat it. The fish also become cannibals in dried up river branches with a high density of piranha.

Where did the myth come from?

But the descriptions of piranhas who deliberately attack larger mammals or even humans are often grossly exaggerated. You can even swim in rivers that are home to piranhas. Only those who have open wounds should not dare to do that: If one of the predatory fish smells blood, he becomes intoxicated. Then he clings to the victim with his sharp teeth and tears pieces of meat out of the body. However, piranhas are usually more fearful and avoid confrontations with large creatures.

The legends about man-eating piranhas can probably be traced back to a burial ritual of some indigenous tribes in the Amazon region. Floods often occur there, which prevents the Indians from burying their deceased underground. So they hang the dead on a rope in the water, where piranhas gnaw off the meat within a few hours. Then the Indians bring the bones to high burial sites.