The Payara (Hydrolycus scomberoides) is a popular game fish in the Amazon and is sometimes seen in the Aquarium Hobby. They are truly magnificent looking, with a pair of long fangs that tuck into the upper jaw. If there ever was a fish designed to be a killing machine, the Payara is it. They use their long fangs to impale the swim bladder of their prey, making them unable to escape even in the turbulent fast moving river systems they call home.
Scientific Name – Hydrolycus scomberoides (other similar species are H. armatus, H. tatauaia and H. wallacei )
Common Name – Payara, Dog Tooth Characin, Vampire Tetra, Vampire Piranha, Vampire Fish, Cachorra or Chambira
Regions of Origin – South America – Amazon River Basins, Orinoco River, Essequibo River
Temperament – These guys are 100% predators. You’ll want a species only tank or to keep them with perhaps some bottom dwelling fish such as Catfish or Stingrays.
Maximum Size – Up to 3-4′ in the wild, although rarely seen. Most specimens in captivity are much smaller, rarely making it over the 15″ mark.
Diet – Smaller Fish, good luck getting a Payara to eat anything but live fish if you try to keep one. They are picky predators but it is possible.
Water – 73-85 degrees, fast moving water, 6.0-7.0 Ph
Tank Terrors Thoughts – The Payara is really not suitable for captivity. They come from rapid flowing rivers and are very active fish. Some choose to keep them but the low survival rate of captive specimens is direct result of how poorly they do in captive situations. You need warm, highly oxygenated, and fast moving water in a very large tank. They also spook easily, so it’s not uncommon to see them injure themselves by darting into the tank walls. Give them some floating and submerged cover (fake plants work well) to make them feel more secure.
Closeup of the Payara Teeth.
Jeremy Wade holding a Monster Payara caught in the Essequibo River.