The Two-Way
9:17 am
Fri October 14, 2011

Listen Up: Here's How Some Piranhas Bark Before They Bite

We're not recommending you dive in to some South American stream to see if you can hear them do this, but this is just too interesting not to pass along.

National Geographic writes that:

"Piranhas, it turns out, can be excellent communicators, a new study suggests. But don't get the idea they're going soft — their barks, croaks, and clicks likely mean 'leave me alone,' 'I might bite you,' or 'now I'm really angry!' "

It has audio and video here.

Writing in The Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers Sandie Millot, Pierre Vandewalle and Eric Parmentier from the University of Liège, Belgium, say that their study of red-bellied piranhas showed that the fish "became quite vocal as soon as they entered into a confrontation."

And the team identified three sounds: A "bark" when the researchers reached into their tanks (yes, theydid have to visit a hospital and one of Millot's fingers was "nearly cut in half"); a "drum-like sound when fighting for food;" and "a softer 'croaking' sound produced by their jaws when they snap at each other." (National Geographic describes that last sound as more like teeth gnashing.)

The fish use "muscles attached to their swim bladders" to make the drum-like sounds, the Journal says.

According to Parmentier, two or three of the 25 piranha species are known to make such sounds.

We'll take him at his word.

(H/T Huff Post's Green blog.)

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.