Payara Fish / Vampira Piranha

Oh Dios Mio, Vampire Piranhas!??

The vampire piranha, which is not really a piranha but often mistaken for one, is the bad boy you see above. The scientific name for this little fella is the “Hydrolycus scomberoides”, but for the purpose of this article, I’m going to go with its other well-known name, which is Payara.
The main reason that people think this fish is a mutated vampire-like version of a piranha is because of its massive dagger-like teeth, however I can confirm that it is not a piranha.  Below is a scientific breakdown of the two families:


Kingdom Animalia Animalia
Phylum Chordata Chordata
Class Actinopterygii Actinopterygii
Order Characiformes Characiformes
Family Cynodontidae Characidae
Genus Hydrolycus Serrasalminae

(The table above was taken from


Interesting facts / specs


  • Other nicknames include Dracula Fish, Dog Fish, Wolf Fish, Saber Tooth Barracuda, Vampire Fish, Vampire Tetra, Saber Tusk Barracuda, Cachorra (Venezuela) and  Chambira (Peru).  (I think I got them all, but let me know if I’m missing any.)
  • They are an extremely aggressive, powerful and fast-moving freshwater fish that are located in South America. Specifically, in the Rio Amazonas and its tributaries above the mouth of Rio Tapajós and in the Orinoco River in Venezuela.
  • It has a salmon-like body, but the truly recognizable feature is the pair of razor sharp fangs coming out of its lower jaw, which by the way, can grow up to 4-6 inches in length.
  • The payara can grow up to a foot long in captivity and approx. 3-4 feet long in the wild. The maximum recorded length is 46 inches with a weight of 38 pounds.
  • It is an extremely popular game fish because of its aggressiveness and willingness to put on a fight once it’s on a line.
  • Diet-wise, they usually stick to smaller fish around a 3rd of their size, but they have been known to go bigger if the mood should strike them. (Note: Their favorite is actually the piranha!)


Want to see one in action?  Have a gander at this video:



I don’t have any experience with fishing for these tough guys, so if that’s the type of information you are looking for, I would start with the sites below which have tons of information (e.g.: Specific locations where you can find them, what equipment you need, etc.):


To Be or Not To Be In An Aquarium?

It can be done, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Here are a few tidbits that will give you an idea on whether they are for you or not:

  • Their life span in captivity is not the greatest. If you get more than a few years, you are lucky.
  • They are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. To start, you are going to need a very, very, very BIG aquarium (and the equipment that goes with it) since these guys can grow up to 12 inches. A minimum of 400-500 gallons is recommended and high-end filtration given that these creatures prefer stronger currents and are extremely messy.

  • They are extremely good jumpers, so make sure the aquarium lid is on tight!
  • Recommended water changes – 35-50% a week.
  • Recommended water conditions – Temperature between 75-82, ph between 6.0 – 8.0 and a hardness level between 2 – 25 dGH
  • They only eat meaty products and lots of it. Some may only ever eat live foods (feeder fish, earthworms, and river shrimps) while others may be trained to eat frozen foods after a while (e.g.: lancefish, mackerel, silversides, etc.).
  • They are harder to find so you will have to do your research. You can always check out my “Where Can I Find Piranhas for Sale On-Line?” article and contact the owners to see if they carry any in stock throughout the year.


Ultimate Freshwater Aquarium Guide from World of Piranhas -

When you have a sec, check out our FUN STUFF section for other interesting piranha-related thingamajigs (or is the politically-correct word thingamabobs?) like merchandise, games, etc. I’ll keep adding more in the upcoming months. Also, you can sign up for our NEWSLETTER to keep up-to-date on the latest information about our friendly neighborhood tough guys. PiranhaGuy Out.



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