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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. 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.
- Excel Saga: The title character was dropped at least once into a pit full of piranhas, among other things.
- Rando hangs Yusuke over a pond of piranha-like fishes in Yu Yu Hakusho.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 Adam Sandler's 2008 comedy, You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Zohan and his arch-nemesis Phantom are seen on the Palestine 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Referenced in Penn and 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 1000WaysToDie 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.
- As noted by Gary Larson, the standard unit of hungriness in piranhas is one cow: "They can devour an entire cow in ten minutes".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Mooks in Let's 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.
- Brandy and 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.
- 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 Brothers 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...
- 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.
- 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.