Payara (Vampire Fish) aka Hydrolycus scomberoides – Profile and Photos

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.


  • Shaan says:

    What hunts payaras other than humans

    • TankTerrors says:

      Larger Payaras do, I know that much for sure. I would say any larger predatory fish would consider them a prey item, given they could catch them. An Arapaiama would swallow one easily along with most larger catfish if given the chance.

  • J4K3 says:

    what tank size would you recommend? I don’t think I’m going to get one but I would like to know about the red payara?

    • TankTerrors says:

      Well it is super debatable. There are also different sub-species that vary in sizes. You would want somewhere between a 180 (6×2) for one on the smaller side up to a 480 (8×4) for larger ones. Both tanks are 2′ tall type. good luck.

  • J4K3 says:

    what is the minimum tank size for a red tail payara?

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