How To Care For Your New Vampire Tetra (Hydrolycus Scomberoides): Diet Feeding, Breeding & More

March 26, 2024

They’re an iconic creature of the night, vampires are prominent figures in myths and legends, but they’re not real… right? Well, not completely, but the Vampire Tetra is certainly an eerie creature with large fangs that might give you the creeps!

The Characin are an incredibly diverse group of fish, and no fish proves that more so than the Vampire Tetra (or the Hydrolycus Scomberoides).

Just a single glance will tell you that this isn’t your typical Tetra. With its two huge fangs on its lower jaw, capable of growing between 4 to 6 inches, there should be no doubt in your mind that the Vampire Tetra is a fearsome carnivore.

How To Care For Your New Vampire Tetra (Hydrolycus scomberoides): Diet Feeding, Breeding & More

The Vampire Tetra also has a gorgeous shimmering, semi-transparent, silver body, and is both long and streamlined, making it an incredibly fast mover under the water.

Their mysterious nature and alluring features mean that it’s quite common for people to desire to keep a Vampire Tetra themselves at home.

However, if you wish to keep a Vampire Tetra, you should ensure that you conduct intensive research into the necessary care required to look after this unique species, and they are certainly not recommended to be kept by new or inexperienced fishkeepers.

So if you’re thinking about maybe keeping a Vampire Tetra, or perhaps yours has just arrived, here’s a helpful guide that will aid you in keeping and taking care of your new fish. 

Difficulty Of Care

The Vampire Tetra are an incredibly hard species of fish to keep and are best suited to being kept either by seriously advanced fishkeepers or in public aquariums.

A large amount of space, financial stability, and immense dedication is required in order for an owner to truly be able to care for a Vampire Tetra, as they can be extremely difficult to look after. 

Vampire Tetras, unlike their mythological counterparts, only live between 6 months and a year in home aquariums, because these fish are wild-caught, they require a very large aquatic space with incredibly specific conditions.

A smaller, more cramped tank will ultimately lead to a shorter lifespan too. 

Food And Feeding

Vampire Tetra’s are exclusively carnivorous, and due to them being wild, their diet consists of purely live animals, and they need a variety of live fish in order to provide the necessary nutrients for them to survive.

They will not eat dead fish or other animals, so it’s important to remember this when considering how to decide on what to feed them.

Your Vampire Tetra will also need feeding up to several times per day, which is why one of the hardest aspects of caring for this species of fish is financially being able to fund the amount of live fish required in order for it to eat.

A potential problem for Vampire Tetra owners is that they can sometimes refuse all food in captivity, which is an unavoidable issue and will ultimately lead to a much, much shorter life span than usual.


  • Type of Diet Carnivore
  • Can they eat flake food? No
  • Can they eat tablets/pellets? No
  • Can they eat live foods? Yes, this is what their diet should consist of
  • Can they eat meaty foods? Yes, this is all of their diet.
  • Frequency required Several times a day.

Aquarium Setup

The Vampire Tetra is an extremely large, predatory fish, and because of their massive size, especially as an adult, and their tendency to school as a juvenile, they require a very large aquarium.

Initially as a small juvenile, a large home aquarium will suffice, but once they reach a full adult size, a 500 gallon plus size tank will be required.

And because Vampire Tetra’s are particularly messy fish, they also require immaculate water quality, with plenty of oxygenation.

Younger Vampire Tetras only really require some moderate water movement, but full-scale adults will need extra strong and turbulent currents in order to help mimic their natural environment. 

Generally, Vampire Tetras will tend to occupy the center of the tank, and will need plenty of open space in order to accommodate their fast swimming.

This means keeping decor to a minimum, but be sure to add some low caves to allow them to retreat.

Your tank should also have a secured lid, as despite not being jumpers, their pectoral fins are highly developed in order to allow them to chase after prey, so they may end up shooting out of the water whilst swimming.

Despite being a fearsome predator, Vampire Tetras are actually very timid and are easily frightened.

So it’s best not to make any overly quick movements whilst around their tank, as startling them can cause them to swim into the sides of the tank too fast, and therefore fatally injure themselves.

The best remedy for this is to either cover the sides of their aquarium with a dark background or to just paint the sides with a dark colored paint.

Overly bright areas are known to stress this species out, so ensure that your aquarium is kept dim, with any form of light being subdued.

Not only does this help them relax, but it also helps to bring out the best colour possible from their scales. 

Specifications Required

  • Minimum size of tank Atleast 500 gallons.
  • Nano Tank compatible No
  • Substrate type required Any.
  • Lighting requirements Moderate lighting, with some dim areas.
  • Optimal temperature 75.0 – 82°F
  • PH range 6.00-8.00
  • Water hardness range 2 – 25 DGH
  • Brackish water No
  • Water movement needed Yes, strong currents required, especially for adults.
  • Region of tank They tend to gravitate towards the centre of the tank.

Aquarium Care

Being messy fish, Vampire Tetras require pristine water that is highly oxygenated and with incredibly high filtration. As aquariums are closed spaces, all require some level of maintenance.

Similar to most other predatory fish, this species of fish produces a lot of waste, hence why the high quality filter is needed in order to maintain such a good level of cleanliness within the aquarium.

Over time, it’s common for a buildup of nitrates, phosphates, and decomposing matter to culminate, and the water’s hardness may change due to evaporation.

Therefore, the water in the tank should be changed on a regular basis in order to help prevent this from affecting the fish.

Weekly water changes of between 30 – 50% should ensure that the water is kept suitable for your Vampire Tetras. 

Social Behaviour

Social Behaviour

Vampire Tetras are often seen in large groups in the wild, but can become rather hostile and aggressive towards their own species whilst kept in captivity, especially in small groups.

They are best kept in a school of roughly 6 or more, or are able to be kept singly. 

Their behavior towards other fish can be problematic if you intended to keep them in a mixed species aquarium.

As they have been known to be both aggressive to other fish and will often attack them too if they’re too large to be eaten.

They can also become stressed out if they feel like their aquarium is too crowded, which will only lead to a shortening of their lifespan.

Whilst it may be possible to keep them with other species depending on their size and nature, it is ultimately best to keep Vampire Tetras in a single species, single specimen tank in order to ensure that they have the best quality of life. 

Breeding And Reproduction

Little is actually known about the way in which Vampire Tetra’s breed, except that they are migratory fish and tend to move towards large rivers and away from lakes and smaller river channels when beginning to reproduce, often moving upstream when spawning and feeding.

Therefore, recreating this in an aquarium would be near impossible, as the size tank needed and conditions required would be hard to reproduce. 


Vampire Tetras are relatively tough fish, and disease usually isn’t an issue as long as their aquarium is well maintained.

However, you should be cautious when introducing anything new to your tank Plants, decorations, and other fish all can harbor diseases that could affect the fish you currently have living in there.

You should ensure that you properly clean anything that you plan on introducing to the aquarium in order to minimize the risk of it carrying disease and upsetting the balance of the tank itself.

Vampire Tetras feed on live fish, so it’s important that you quarantine their food before you feed it to them too, as it is possible that they can easily pass on a disease from a live fish.

Vampire Tetras are typically prone to skin flukes, ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (worms, protozoa, etc), general bacterial infections as well as bacterial disease.

If you plan on keeping any Vampire Tetras, it is recommended that you educate yourself on how these infections and diseases can come about, how to spot them early, and how to treat them. 

Disease outbreaks can be limited to just a single fish or two if it is intercepted at an early stage.

When keeping more sensitive types of fishes, it is likely that all of them will be infected by the time the initial warning signs are noticed. 

A well kept aquarium and healthy diet should help to prevent disease, and the more alike their aquarium is to their natural environment, the less stressed they will become, which is something that can often make fish more susceptible to disease.



Whilst Vampire Tetras aren’t particularly hard to find, finding one that is aquarium-sized is perhaps a little bit more difficult to find.

Additionally, they tend to be shipped from their native region of South America, and because they require a lot of space, the shipping costs will be extremely high.

Shipping costs aren’t the only expensive thing either, because if you manage to find a Vampire Tetra for sale, the likelihood is that it’ll cost a high amount of money too. 

It’s also extremely important for you to check with your local laws on whether it’s actually legal for you to own a Vampire Tetra, especially since the likelihood is you don’t live in their natural regions.

In some places, they’re banned from both public and private possession, presumably to prevent people from releasing them into native bodies of water. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Vampire Tetras are a complicated species of fish to care for, so it’s extremely common for potential owners to have a lot of questions surrounding the nature of the fish and some of the origins of the species.

We’ve compiled a list of the most common questions asked about Vampire Tetras to hopefully help answer any possible questions you may have.

How Big Can Vampire Tetras Get?

In their natural habitat in the wild, Vampire Tetras can be massive!

They can grow anywhere from 2 feet long up to 4 feet long! In terms of weight, a wild Vampire Tetras can weigh anywhere between 10 and 35 lbs, and the record weight for one is 40 lbs!

However, in captivity, they tend to be somewhat smaller, rarely exceeding 12 inches, and generally weighing 5-10 lbs. 

Are Vampire Tetras Dangerous?

Despite looking like something out of a horror movie, thankfully, Vampire Tetras generally aren’t aggressive or dangerous towards humans, and there have been no reported cases of any active attacks on humans by Vampire Tetras.

However, don’t expect them to be completely passive.

Vampire Tetras will defend themselves if they’ve been caught on a fisherman’s line, and it’s well known that they will cut, bite, and nip at humans if they’ve been caught, but as a general rule, humans are safe from Vampire Tetras’ aggression. 

What Are Some Other Names For Vampire Tetras?

Vampire Tetras’ distinctive appearance has earned them many names from around the world, some examples include Wolf Fish, Dracula Fish, Dogtooth Tetra, Sabertooth Tiger Fish, Dogtooth Characin, and Payara. 

Unsurprisingly, a lot of their other names are based on their teeth. So much like their mythological namesakes, their teeth’s reputation often precedes them!

Are Vampire Tetras Endangered?

The Vampire Tetra hasn’t actually been evaluated at all by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), so whether these fish are actually endangered or at risk of extinction at all is currently unknown!

The likelihood is that they’re not endangered at all, they’re not an uncommon site in the natural habitat and unless there is a severe manmade disruption soon then it is safe to assume that their numbers will maintain a good level.

Where Are Vampire Tetras Found?

The native region of the Vampire Tetra is in the Amazon basin located in South America.

Its natural habitat usually consists of clean, fast-moving water with strong currents.

Some of the most common places for these fish to be found are in strong current rivers, as well as the bottom of waterfalls. 

How Often Do Vampire Tetras Lay Eggs?

Not much at all is known about a Vampire Tetra’s breeding habits or reproductive cycle, apart from that they’re migratory and tend to swim upstream when looking to breed.

This unknown aspect of the Vampire Tetra is ultimately what makes the species all the more interesting, and is one of the reasons why so many people are fascinated by owning them. 

How Are Vampire Tetras Caught?

As you can imagine, Vampire Tetras are probably not the easiest fish to catch, and many fishermen travel to their native region of Ecuador in order to try and catch one of these specimens.

They are caught for different reasons, some people simply want the bragging rights of having caught a Vampire Tetra, whilst others actually catch these fish to cook and eat.

Catching a Vampire Tetra takes a great amount of skill and effort, firstly, you must use live bait, as they won’t be attracted to anything else.

In fact, some fishers will shake their fishing rods in an attempt to try and simulate a piranha attack, Vampire Tetras prey on piranhas, so it’s a great way to try and lure them in.

Due to their length and weight, they’re rather heavy to heave out of the water, and it’s quite common for them to be able to slip away before they’re fully caught.

Additionally, fishers also have to be wary of their teeth, as they’re known to nip humans in defence. 

Final Verdict

If you’re thinking of owning a Vampire Tetra, just understand that they are fish that require extensive care and maintenance in order to have a decent quality of life, which can often end up being rather expensive.

They also don’t live that long either.

Overall, if you want to keep a Vampire Tetra, you have to be ready to spend a lot of money and time looking after them, as well as having plenty of space to give them their size aquarium that they require.
Jose Viacrucis

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