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Vampire Tetra (Hydrolycus scomberoides) Care & 15 Things Must know

Vampires are white, pale, bloodless characters all of us may fear to think of. They are not living in the real world. But would you believe that there is a creatures like Vampires in the real world? That creature is a fish, and it is called a Vampire Tetra (Hydrolycus scomberoides) or payara fish.

Vampire Tetra

Vampire Tetras are mysterious as Vampires. It is a powerful giant fish. It has 3-5 inches long fangs. Vampire fish is also named Water wolf, Dogteeth Tetra, Dogtooth Characin, and Sabretooth Tiger fish due to the presence of these long fangs. Therefore Vampire fish is a semi-transparent fish with a shimmering silver body. The elongated and streamlined body brings out fast-moving nature to this fish. Also, Vampire Tetra possesses a large head and an inverted mouth. Holes are present in the upper jaw to fit those Sharpe fangs. 

The fish is unique due to its incredible and dangerous outlook. It is first found and caught in the year 1819 by a person named Cuvier. The scientific name of the Vampire Tetra is Hydrolycus Scomberoides. The name is derived from the Greek word “hydro” which means water, “lykos” means wolf and the “scombros” means tuna in Greek language.


Distribution of Vampire Tetra Fish

In the wild, these species can be seen in South America within the Rio de Janeiro Amazonas and its tributaries higher than the mouth of Rio Tapajós, additionally as in the Orinoco in the Republic of Venezuela.

Behavioural patterns 

Vampire fish is a very aggressive type of fish. But less aggressive when they are in aquariums. So Vampire Tetras form groups and go after smaller fish. When they have a large space to swim, they keep schools with 6 or more fish.

When these fish are single, they can become nervous. They swim fast and sometimes damage themselves. Vampire fishes are also easily frightening when we are around the tank and make movements in tank water.

The fish will also not survive when the tank is overcrowded. Vampire Tetra will survive better as a single species. That means if there are no mates in the tank they will grow faster and better.

Other names of vampire Tetras

The Vampire Tetra is also called Water wolf, Dogteeth Tetra, Dogtooth Characin, Sabretooth Tigerfish, Payara Vampire, Characin, payara fish, and Vampire Fish

The fishermen identified Payara Vampire as a game fish.  The fish belongs to Cynodontidae family. Its genus name is Hydrolycus and consists of four species. Collectively these species are called Pirandirá or Payara. Its common names are Payara Characin. Vampire Tetra, Vampire Characin, and Sabre-Toothed Tiger Fish.

Where does the Vampire Fish live?

Vampire Fish is extremely difficult to rare and maintain. They exist in clean, fast-flowing rivers wherever the water is turbulent, together with rapids and the base of waterfalls.

Large public aquariums are suitable to keep this large predatory fish. As the fish mature their habitat requirement is varied. Also, juveniles live in less turbulent water while adults live under fast-moving currents like a base of waterfalls.

What does a Vampire Tetra eat?

Vampire Tetra mainly prefers to eat Fishes, Shrimps, and Worms. Below shows a list of food items that they love to eat.

  • Piranhas
  • Feeder fish
  • Earthworms
  • Trout
  • River shrimps
  • Frozen silversides
  • Lance fish

They are a kind of carnivorous fish. They only eat live foods. Most of the time they love to eat live fish. Usually, an aquarium includes live foods such as feeder Fish, Earthworms, and River shrimps.

Vampire fish are trained to eat whole dead fish such as frozen Silversides and Lance fish. The feeding frequency of Vampire fish is 2-3 times per day. You should add a feed amount that can be finished within 2 minutes.

What do Vampire Tetras like eating?

Vampire Tetra prefers to eat live Fish, Shrimp, and Worms. Apart from that, they love to eat all types of meaty foods. But these fish need a varied diet of different types of fish to fulfill the nutrient requirement.

Therefore, Vampire Tetras are encouraged to eat non-living foods like frozen Silversides, Smelt, Squids, and Mackerels. Feeding them many times a day may fulfill their energy requirement. The feeding and dietary pattern of the Vampire Tetras are different from the other Tetra fish diet.

How long can Vampire Tetras live without food?

Most Tetras can live without food for up to 2 weeks. Vampire Tetras have a very short life span of an average of 6 to 12 months. They can survive a maximum of 2 years. They excrete a lot of waste since they hunt and feed. The nitrogenous waste collected in the fish tank might be the reason for their short life span.

Things that Vampire Tetra does not eat.

Vampire tetra is a carnivore fish. So, they do not eat plant matter. Moreover, they do not consume Flake Foods, Tablets or Pellets.

How big can Vampire Tetras get?

A wild Vampire Tetra grows up to the length of 2 to 3 feet. While in captivity they grow only up to 12 inches. So the Weight of an average wild Tetra fish is 10 to 35 pounds while 5 to 10 pounds in captivity. 

Tank mates of Vampire Tetras

Freshwater Barracudas, Black ghost knives/African knifes Paxu or Large Catfish can be used as tank mates for Vampire Tetras.

In the fish tank, a school of half a dozen of Vampire Tetras will be able to keep it solely. But they will be aggressive towards other tank mates. They cannot survive in a jam-packed setting. So, it is better to stay these species separately in a tank. However, you can keep larger fish such as a Paxu or Large Catfish with Vampire Tetra.

Moreover, Freshwater Barracudas, Catfish, and Black ghost knives/African knives can keep associated with Vampire tetra. They are too big to be eaten by the Vampire Tetra.

The tank can be housed with different species of Vampire Tetras. Rhaphiodon Vulpinus and Hydrolycus Tatauaia are species of Tetras that can be suitable for that. But the size of the tank should be enlarged if you add tank mates to the tank. If not, fish may die by rubbing their noses with each other.

How to care Vampire Tetra 

Payara is a type of fish that is very difficult to care. Therefore public aquariums are used to care for these large predatory fish. Most experienced fish keepers have the financial ability, space, and dedication to care for the fish. 

Vampire Tetra needs a varied diet of fish once they feed. Sometimes they refuse to get food in captivity. Payara has a very short life span of 6 months to a year. Only a few reported livings up to 2 years. The reason for the short life span might be the collection of nitrogenous waste in the tank bottom.

Therefore, extremely large aquariums are necessary for Vampire Tetra fish. So as they mature and big their habitat must be changed. Juveniles live in turbulent water while adult fish live in fast-moving currents like the base of waterfalls.

Tank Size

Vampire fish is a large predatory fish. So, they need large aquariums. Tank size with a minimum of 500 gallons with an advanced filter system is needed for Vampire Tetras.

They need more open space in the middle part of the tank to swim fast. The decoration inside the tank should be minimum. But some low driftwood caves can be used to decor. The aquarium also needs a tight-fitting lid.


The optimum temperature range ideal for Vampire fish is 750 F to 82° F (23.9 °C to 27.8°C). Therefore, maintain the above temperature ranges in aquarium/ fish tank water. So this must stay stable throughout the day. 

 pH Range

The optimum pH range ideal for Vampire fish is 6.0-8.0.  Therefore, you should maintain the above-mentioned pH range in your aquarium/ fish tank water.

Hardness of the water

The aquarium hardness must be kept to an optimum level. If the hardness of the home aquarium water is increased, the fish tend to have a short life span.

A crowded tank will shorten the life span of the fish that are widely caught. Well-mannered water quality conditions must be practiced when raring Vampire Tetras.

The optimum hardness range ideal for Vampire fish is 2 – 25 dGH. Therefore, maintain the above hardness range in aquarium/ fish tank water.

Water Movement

Strong water movements must be maintained within the tank/ aquarium. Juveniles live in less turbulent water. Adults are found in fast-moving currents, like the base of waterfalls.

Most of the time the fish swim near the middle of the tank. Always make sure to provide water with high oxygen amount to the fish tank.


Bright light inside the tank may stress the fish. Moderate lighting should be maintained inside the tank. The tank should be dark, or the edges and the back of the tank should be painted black.

Filtration and water circulation

Vampire Tetra produces many waste matters. These waste matters will become toxic to them. Therefore, the waste must be removed as soon as it forms. So An advanced filtration system is needed to remove these wastes from the tank.

Slight changes in the tank water may cause stress to the fish. Fish may die due to this. Filtration can help to increase the nitrogen cycle in the tank by removing waste.

The experience levels.

The Aquarist must have the advanced experience level to rear these fish. Regular maintenance should be done to all types of aquariums regardless of their size. These fish produce a lot of waste.

Therefore, a highly efficient water filtering system is needed. Therefore If not decomposing organic matter, nitrate, and phosphates, that is created in the pond bottom will increase the hardness of the water. As solution water should be replaced regularly.

Weekly changes of 30- 50% tank water are recommended to combat these ever-changing water quality parameters. Therefore, an expert is needed as the Aquarist.

Breeding Vampire Tetras

The vampire fish is a migratory fish. They migrate to large rivers for feeding and breeding purposes. Under aquarium conditions, Vampire Tetra is difficult to breed in captivity.

Check out Guide on What Black Skirt Tetras eat & Black Skirt Tetras care?

Vampire Tetra fish diseases

Vampire Tetras are vulnerable to the following fish diseases.

  • Parasitic infestations
  • Skin flukes
  • Ichthyobodo infection
  • Bacterial diseases

Importance of the Vampire Fish

Vampire Tetras are a type of game fish. Recently, this fish has gained popularity in private and public aquariums. The nature of the Tetra fish with vibrant silver bodies gliding together with the dark background attracts them for purchase and admiration.

Credits to IndustrialCinema

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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.