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Piranha Problem
There's food in the water! GATHER THE TROOPS!

"I'm more worried about piranhas. Did you see that movie where they send a nuclear submarine to fight the piranhas, and one of them swims right down the periscope and bites the guy in the eye, and he goes, 'Aah! Aah! Aah!', and that old lady told him it would happen!?"
Milhouse, The Simpsons

It's generally agreed upon that sharks can turn most any situation from bad to worse... and then there's piranhas. Piranhas are portrayed as vicious mindless eating machines that can tear through anything and leave nothing but bones. In other words, thinking of nothing except whatever "food" happens to fall in the water.

Piranhas provide an alternative to sharks for the Shark Pool, where the villain will always walk in with a bloody dripping leg of lamb or goat, dip it in the tank for two seconds, and then remove it to show a bare bone.

In Real Life, the piranha's viciousness is exaggerated. When they're not hungry or are asleep, they flee from anything that disturbs them. Their famous schooling behavior is not done to attack prey, but to protect themselves from predators like caimen, giant river otters, and freshwater dolphins. Of course, when they do become hungry they actually can leave nothing but bones when they are inclined to attack and eat. While President Theodore Roosevelt did once observe Amazon piranhas reduce a cow to a skeleton in a few minutes, this occurred under artificial conditions. The locals had blocked off this portion of the tributary with nets, dumped hordes of extra piranhas in there, and starved them for days before throwing the cow in, all in the name of making a spectacle for the visiting president. Dropping the cow into a pit full of starving humans would have had a similar result, as anybody who's seen a zombie movie could tell you.

Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • A commercial for Energizer batteries features the Energizer Bunny in a cage above a tank of pirahnas, the cage being triggered by a Lie Detector that an Energizer scientist was hooked up to. Whether or not the Bunny took a dive depended on the scientist telling the truth about whether or not Energizer outlasted Duracell in digital cameras.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Dragon Ball, Ninja Murasaki ran across a pond to get away from Goku. Goku was about to swim across when Murasaki warned him there were piranha. Goku didn't know what piranha were, so Murasaki threw a large fish in the water to demonstrate. Understanding, Goku simply jumped over the water.
  • Excel♥Saga: The title character was dropped at least once into a pit full of piranhas, among other things.
  • In Gon, a swarm of piranha try to get an easy snack out of the titular baby t-rex. Too bad he's Made of Iron and an Implacable Man (dinosaur). Gon decides to make a meal out of them instead.
  • Rando hangs Yusuke over a pond of piranha-like fishes in YuYu Hakusho.
  • When the Smile Precure girls travels around the world in episode 30, Akaoni turns a piranha into a Super Akanbe. It is also the last Super Akanbe in the series.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Piranha don't smile.
  • The comic book explanation of Aquaman's hook hand. His real hand was eaten by pirahnas. Considering this is the guy who commands fish, that had to be retconned so that he didn't command, he just suggests.
  • In one Punisher story, Frank is being chased through the New York zoo by Mooks. He used the surrounding wildlife to his advantage, such as holding one upside down in the piranha tank (and pulling out his picked-to-the-bone skeleton a short while later).
  • Rivers of Palombia in Marsupilami are infested with piranhas. It's not so much a problem for the marsupilamis themselves, though, since they're fond of eating them.
  • In the Tales From the Crypt story "The Bath", a servant fills a corrupt mine owner's bath with piranhas, with predictable results, as retribution for the owner killing the servant's family.
  • New 52: In the Justice League storyline "The Hunt for the Cheetah", The Cheetah is defeated when Wonder Woman throws her off a cliff and into a river with Aquaman and a huge school of piranhas waiting to capture her.

    Film 
  • Piranha was an intentionally-amusing rip-off of Jaws. The sequel is notable solely for the fact that it was more or less James Cameron's first feature film directing gig.
    • They weren't normal piranha in the sequel, they were air-borne super-predators who cross-breed with flying fish.
      • Which is also the subject of a gag in The Far Side (see below).
    • And of course, the remake, Piranha 3D!
  • In Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, the bad guy had a tank. Bruce Leroy shoves his face into the tank for half a second, long enough to scare him and his ditzy moll.
  • Ice Age 2: Scrat the squirrel was chased by piranhas.
  • You Only Live Twice: Blofeld kept a piranha pond in his underground lair - handy for getting rid of failed employees.
  • Speed Racer: One of the bad guys has a tank full of them in his office in a moving truck. It gets a hole shot in it, and he forces one of his Mooks to stick a finger in to keep the tank from draining. The fish all gather around with fascination.
  • The spoof movie National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 featured an aquarium with red-bellied piranha in a normal house. William Shatner's villain character views them with bemusement, sticks his head into the tank (with billowing water to simulate an attack), and then lifts his head up with a piranha in his grinning mouth, to the other characters' shock. Later a Funny Background Event occurs as a police officer has his arm in the tank trying to get something out of it during an investigation, with water billowing and him screaming in pain.
  • In You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Zohan and his arch-nemesis Phantom are seen on the Lebanon beach competing about which one is the tougher, letting themselves get bitten by a piranha to prove their point. It's presence is a two-fold mistake, because a) piranhas are found in South America, and b) they are fresh water fish.
  • Cannibal Holocaust was going to have a scene involving piranhas, but it was cut due to difficulties with the camera and the fish themselves.
  • There is a small tank of piranhas (well, hand puppets) in the Lou Ferrigno Sinbad Of The Seven Seas.
  • Their reputation is used in Now You See Me, as Henley sets up an escape act where piranhas will be released into a water tank that she's locked in after 60 seconds. They appear to churn and devour her alive... only for her to appear in the crowd decrying the sadism of whoever thought of such an act. This is her Establishing Character Moment.
  • In Killer Fish, loot from a diamond heist is placed in a dam lake with introduced piranha as its protector.
  • Rio 2: "Flesh-eating piranhas that eat flesh."

    Literature 
  • A character in Bless the Beasts and Children makes a point by telling the story of a friend and his pet piranha, a vaguely charming beastie with a fondness for live goldfish. The friend was unable to keep the piranha, so he put it in a goldfish pond to spend the rest of its days feeding happily. The piranha got greedy, "turned into a goldfish gourmet," and lived entirely on the bellies of the goldfish (apparently the tastiest part.) Then the pond's owners noticed all the belly-less goldfish floating at the top of the pond, moved the survivors to another pond, and dumped in poison. Moral: if you start something (say, eating a goldfish), better finish the job!
  • Averted in the Able Team novel "Amazon Slaughter". The team is attacked by piranhas while swimming a river, but they only give some nasty bites (at the time, the protagonist is more worried because he thinks the pain means he's just been shot).
  • In the James Bond novel 'You Only Live Twice'', Doctor Shatterhand has piranha pools on his grounds, all the better to dispose of people who have not yet succumbed to the other lethal attractions of his gardens.
  • In the Daughter of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce, the Royally Screwed Up rulers of the Copper Isles sometimes throw dissidents into a specially-prepared pool of piranha and allow any survivors to go free. Unfortunately, they've figured out not to offer this opportunity when the ratio of dissidents to piranha is too high. Eventually, the fish die from being used to cover up murder by poisoning.
  • In It, the eponymous monster at one point takes the form of a school of piranha... or maybe a character just imagined it. Since the character in question had never seen an actual piranha, they looked more like a child's imagined version of them than the real thing.

    Live Action TV 
  • One of the episodes of the TV show Cliffhanger had the Plucky Girl reporter dangling six inches over the Amazon river, which was teeming with piranha.
  • In The Most Extreme, it was the misconception of the piranha that gave it second place in the "Monster Myths" category.
  • Extreme fisherman Jeremy Wade in an episode of River Monsters doubted this until he dipped a dead duck in a piranha infested river for a few moments. When he pulled it out, the submerged part had been devoured all the way to the internal organs.
    • Except that's not really demonstrating the principle of the trope - piranha are by nature opportunistic feeders, so of course they'll go after a carcass. Later in the episode he jumped into a pool that had been filled with piranha and spent several minutes up to his chest in the water, when he exited it unharmed. In the River Monsters: Unhooked commentary, he said that shooting that scene was one of the least pleasant things he'd ever done on the show and had wanted to get out of the water much sooner, but the director wouldn't let him.
    • A later season episode once again ended up investigating the possibility of piranhas attacking humans, this time in Bolivia with at least one reported fatality. In this case, however, it was because another fish, the arapaima, had been introduced to the river and the presence of a large, non-native predator had thrown the river's ecology out of balance and left the piranhas much more aggressive than usual due to lack of food.
  • Referenced in Penn & Teller Tell A Lie and debunked with Teller going for a swim in a tank containing thirty of the little fish - who are less hungry, and more terrified of "big fish" Teller.
  • One of the Ways on 1000 Ways to Die combines piranha with candiru (the fish that The Monarch was referencing in The Venture Brothers entry below) for a rather gruesome death - especially if you're male.
  • On Boy Meets World when Cory and Topanga are honeymooning at a tropical resort this is used as a background gag heard over the P.A. system: "Attention guests, will the couple who left their dog in the piranha tank please come claim his collar?".
  • During a Cousteau special concentrating on the Amazon River, at one point a pair of divers filmed underwater one handfeeding a chicken leg to piranha. As they joked afterwards, the piranha did not bite the hand that fed them, but the one that filmed them with the cameraman getting a single bite on his knuckle that didn't require any real medical attention.
  • In the Doctor Who episode The Face of Evil, the Test of the Horda is a land-dwelling version.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • As noted in The Far Side, the standard unit of hungriness in piranhas is one cow: "They can devour an entire cow in ten minutes". Of course, the strip has a cow note this fact.
    • Another Far Side comic shows the interior of a pet store. The focus of the comic is a cat with wooden pegs for its forelegs, and a piranha swimming in a fishbowl nearby.
      Prehistory of The Far Side: I thought for a long time about what caption to put on this one, then realized it didn't need a caption at all.

    Other 
  • On Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride, one stretch of the river is infested with animatronic piranha that leap out of the water toward the boat.
  • Death number four of Lucky the Cat.

    Video Games 
  • Merely entering piranha-infested water in Tomb Raider 3 triggers a swarm that eats up your health bar in seconds.
  • Carvanha from Pokémon notably the Pokedex does say that Carvanha are timid as individuals. Unsurprisingly, it evolves into Sharpedo.
    • Black and White has Basculin.
  • In Rayman 2, about half of all the water in the game is infested with these.
  • Lockjaw and Snapjaw from Donkey Kong Country 2, Nibbla from Donkey Kong Country 3
  • Banjo-Kazooie has Bubblegloop Swamp, the water of which is infested with piranhas that take your health away anytime you entered the water. The only way to safely traverse the water was to wear wading boots, or have Mumbo Jumbo turn you into an alligator (because piranhas are afraid of alligators).
    • There's even a piranha-like enemy found in various areas of the game called Chump.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker we have the nightmarish Seahats, which are boat sized piranhas with propeller blades on their heads that will pursue Link to the ends of the earth in order to knock him out of his boat.
    • Skullfish in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess resemble piranhas and swarm around Link if he enters their waters, especially in the deep pool right smack-dab in the middle of the Lakebed Temple.
  • The 2005 Punisher video game features piranha tanks that you can use to threaten enemies into giving you info by holding them just a few inches from the water's surface. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from dunking your victims - Frank sticks the enemy's head in for a few seconds and pulls it out, revealing that most of the guy's face has been eaten off.
  • Piranhas appear in jungle areas of Spelunky. They chase any unfortunate spelunker who jumps into a body of water, but they can kill other enemies as well. And there are also large piranhas!
  • One of the types of Mook in Lets Go Jungle. Very irritating, because they're hard to hit and attack in swarms, and if even one gets to you before you can kill it, you lose up to about a third of your lifebar!
  • In Spyro 3, the Midday Gardens world has a level called Spooky Swamp. The water there is full of piranhas! And they will kill you if you so much as land in it, let alone try to swim, unless you get. the hell. out of there.
    • At least there are warning signs.
  • Fatty Glutton from the Darius series, a Humongous Mecha piranha. His name may sound laughable, but don't be fooled- he's usually one of the hardest bosses of the games he appears in.
  • The second Endless Ocean game (Blue World in the US) has them in the Amazon area. You can distract them with food, but they won't react to the pulsar. If you do agitate them, they'll bite you and make your air meter drain faster. It is apparently possible to steer clear if you're careful.
  • In Guild Wars 2 there is an underwater spell that summons piranhas to deal damage over time. There is also a specific underwater level where you have to use bioluminescent plants to get from volcanic vent to volcanic vent because as soon as you leave the safety of a light radius you get eaten by super death killer piranhas and die in a couple of seconds.
  • Strider sees them in the Amazon level: they infest the Amazon River but are actually harmless, simply clinging to Hiryu's sprite if he walks close by. If Hiryu falls into the water, however, the (still harmless) piranhas will rush him en-masse as he slowly sinks into the bottom of the screen.
  • Averted in Bubble Trouble, where Chombert the Piranha is The Goomba of the game.
  • Super Mario Fusion Revival: Deep in the Amazon River basin (World 2-S4: Rebel River), Marco Rossi found a contigent of Rebel Army forces. However, the only clear way to it is to first traverse a stretch of the Amazon infested with piranha. There is a giant piranha fish nearby with a taste for flesh; contact with it will prove fatal!
  • Failing a specific timing puzzle in Leisure Suit Larry 2 results in Larry falling into waist-deep water. He notes that there's a weird tingling sensation, then climbs out of the river to find that piranhas have stripped everything below his waist to the bone. Notably, the game ends not because he dies, but hecause he lost his manhood and can't go on.
  • You can catch piranha in the Animal Crossing games; the Player Character lampshades this trope when they do ("Which river is this, anyway?"). And after you've donated one to the museum, you can see it bashing itself against the wall of the tank...but the description for it claims, correctly, that piranha are actually quite timid.

    Web Original 
  • In Bowser's Kingdom episode 8, Steve the Piranha Plant had a girlfriend and laid an egg. Hal asked how he did that, to which Steve replies it's because he was drunk and in love. The egg hatched and it revealed a Dino Piranha, which chased Jeff and Hal.

    Western Animation 
  • Brandy & Mr. Whiskers: Mr. Whiskers is always being attacked by piranhas anytime he gets near the water.
  • Fairly Oddparents: Timmy once placed a hungry piranha in the fishbowl with Wanda and Cosmo to get them back for something. He probably had to face man eating piranhas himself earlier in the same episode, IIRC.
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven: Carface threatens to lower Killer into a pit full of piranhas.
  • Naturally for a Trope Overdosed show, Dr. Drakken once threatened Kim Possible's Sidekick with a pool of piranhas.
    • Seńor Senior, Sr. didn't have any piranha for his lagoon in time for his villainous debut, but he assured Kim and Ron that "the koi have not been fed in days".
  • One episode of Scooby-Doo had the gang in the Amazon, and at one point Scoob and Shaggy had to build a canoe made of wood to cross the river. Piranhas start to eat through the canoe, causing Shaggy and Scooby to literally run on water to get away from them.
  • Street Sharks gave us Dr. Piranoid, but it subverted Everything's Even Worse with Sharks.
  • Generator Rex encountered piranha in episode 9, mutated into an Extreme Omnivore Flying Seafood Special variety by the series' Phlebotinum.
  • "Aargh! A piranha!" "Those only live in South America!"
  • "I'm a piranha! They're from the Amazon!"
  • The Venture Bros. references and dismisses them:
    The Monarch: I don't think I'm the one in danger here... considering the sad fact that right below you flows the MIGHTY AMAZON - teeming with the most GRUESOME fish to ever...
    Hank Venture: [interrupting] The piranha!
    The Monarch: No.
    Hank Venture: The shark?
    The Monarch: No!
    Hank Venture: ...The piranha!
    The Monarch: NO! And shut up! This isn't a quiz.
  • In The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment "Terror In Tiny Toon", Itchy shoots a swarm of piranha from a hose reducing everything below Bart's head to the bones, they later fix this by playing it backwards.
  • Sylvester has been attacked by piranha in a couple Looney Tunes shorts.
  • Blue Aardvark was attacked by piranha in Pink Panther And Pals while trying to escape a hungry cheetah...a sort of Scylla and Charybdis situation.
  • In Cro, the human characters get chased around by an aggressive school of piranha for almost the entire episode until Phil the mammoth notes that piranha, who are swimming in a salt water aquarium, are fresh water fish. Hearing this, the piranha then immediately die.
  • In the Marsupilami short Bathtime for Maurice, Marsupilami met the piranha and remarks "Well, What do you know? Playful Piranhas. Hello, Fellas." Before they started attacking Marsupilami.
  • Timon & Pumbaa had the main duo get chased by a giant piranha. With a chainsaw!
  • In the HBO Animated Adaptation of Spawn, to give Jason Wynn a Kick the Dog moment, we see him feed a live puppy to a tankful of piranha in one episode.

    Real Life 
  • Inverted in the one documented case of a piranha killing a human being, as the fisherman in question had already removed the fish from the water when it happened. Loaded down with a double armload of fish, he opted to grip one in his mouth rather than make two trips to carry his catch home; unfortunately, it turned out to be a red-bellied piranha that wasn't quite dead, and bit off such a large hunk of the man's tongue that he bled to death.
  • Many villages along rivers with piranha have a designated 'garbage dump' spot in the river, and the piranha will greedily devour anything dumped into the water there, as they've been taught it will be food. It's often fairly safe to swim in the river - unless you try to jump in at the garbage dump.


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