Eugene Weekly : Feature : 7.28.11

Eugene Weekly‘s Pet Issue:

Cooking for Canines Get baked with Fido

Neu Day Rising Make your dog’s life testicle-rific with fake balls

Are You a Badfish Too? Exploring the toothy side of freshwater aquarium-dwellers

The Furriest Firefighter Firedog is much more than a mascot  

Sasha at Serbu Hero dog needs a home  

The Healthy Hound Holistic pet care in Eugene

Pure Pixelated Cuteness Popular cat videos, explained


Are You a Badfish Too?
Exploring the toothy side of freshwater aquarium-dwellers
By Dante Zuñiga-West

Many partake in the hobby of owning carnivorous fish. Whether you personally identify with fast-swimming, meat-chomping predators or you love Animal Planet so much that you want to see it every day, live, in your living room, there are many rewarding and exciting aspects to having your own tank of aggressive fish.

A Red-bellied piranha at Pet Time. Photograph by Todd Cooper.

Commonly known as the red-belly piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri are sometimes referred to as “the wolf of the water.” These little guys can be found in your local pet store. States such as California and Colorado require permits to own any species of piranha, while some such as Hawaii or Kentucky completely prohibit all species. Oregon has no such regulations, and this is due mostly to the fact that if released into the wild (which one should NEVER do with any fish), the fish wouldn’t survive our cold winter waters. 

Though piranhas hold a fearsome reputation in most psyches, they make relatively docile pets. Exceptionally large tanks with big shoals of underfed fish could be potentially dangerous for a human, but said human would also have to decide to stick his/her hand into the tank or go for a swim. “I’ve never in my fifty years of keeping piranhas heard of a fish biting its owner,” says Irving Weiner of Eugene’s Aqua Serene fish supply and pet store. Of course, agitating piranhas for fun is a bad idea and could actually get you (deservedly) bitten. 

 Smaller tanks of three or four piranhas are ideal for the home aquarium. A good rule of thumb is to get a tank allowing twenty gallons of water per fish and a serious filter, capable of processing more water than your tank holds because piranhas are messy eaters. Water temperature should be between 80 F and 85 F, and your tank décor should replicate the natural environment of piranhas: think Amazon River.   

 Piranhas prefer live food such as feeder fish or small mice, but frozen foods in the form of bloodworms, shrimp or even chunks of lean beef heart are a good alternative. Ideally, your piranhas should be fed a mix of live and frozen foods. You may have to wait a while for your piranhas to get used to you, as they can be shy about people watching them eat.   

In shoals, piranhas swarm their food, tearing it to shreds, but they won’t eat the debris left afterwards — so, like a bad breakup or an ugly party foul, you will inevitably be left to pick up the pieces.   

If you want to branch out beyond piranhas, you can also get an Osteoglossum bicirrhosum, aka the silver arowana. Arowana are capable of retracting their entire bodies into an S-curve before launching themselves through the water (or air) at very high speeds. Another cool thing is that they actually wield teeth on their tongues.

The Hydrocynus vittatus or African tiger fish looks like something from a nightmare. 

“You don’t come across a fish that can squash a goldfish’s head as flat as paper very often,” says Aaron Cundiff, fish-keeper at Pet Time in Eugene. The African tiger fish will eat anything you put in the tank and does not play well with others. They are extremely fast swimming and not a good choice for the first-time keeper of predatory fish.