Payara Care Guide: Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases, Breeding & More

Updated: December 17, 2022

The Payara is an amazing freshwater fish that is relatively easy to care for. They are a great addition to any aquarium and will provide you with hours of enjoyment.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about Payara care. You’ll learn about their diet, size, lifespan, and more!

Species overview

Payaras (scientific name: Hydrolycus scomberoides) are a type of freshwater fish that’s native to the Amazon basin.

They are a predatory fish that feeds primarily on other fish. In the wild, they have been known to grow up to around 4 feet in length, although they are typically much smaller in captivity.

Payaras are a popular choice for aquariums because of their unique appearance. They have long, fang-like teeth that protrude from their mouths, which can be quite intimidating!

Despite their fearsome appearance, payaras are actually quite peaceful fish. They are typically very shy and will spend most of their time hiding.



The Payara is an intimidating fish that is sure to stand out in any aquarium. They have a long, slender body that can grow to be up to 4 feet in length!

The body of the Payara is covered in large, sharp scales. These scales are a dark gray or black color that provides great camouflage in their natural habitat.

The Payara has a large mouth that is filled with sharp teeth. These teeth are perfect for catching their prey.

The Payara has a large dorsal fin that is located towards the back of their body. This fin is tall and triangular in shape.

The Payara also has a large anal fin that is located towards the back of their body. This fin is tall and triangular in shape.

The Payara has a large caudal fin that is tall and triangular in shape.

The Payara has large pectoral fins that are located towards the front of their body. These fins are tall and triangular in shape.

The Payara has large pelvic fins that are located towards the front of their body. These fins are tall and triangular in shape.


The average lifespan of a Payara is 5 to 7 years.

This is a pretty long lifespan for a fish, especially one that gets as large as the Payara.

Of course, as with any animal, there are a number of factors that can impact their lifespan.

The level of care they receive is obviously very important. If they’re in a well-maintained tank with good water quality then they’ll likely live on the higher end of this range.


The Payara can grow to be a very large fish, with some specimens reaching lengths of over 4 feet! However, the average size of a Payara is more likely to be between 2 and 3 feet in length.


Tank Size

The recommended minimum tank size for Payara is 500 gallons. If you’re looking for a freshwater fish that can fit in an average-sized tank, this is not the fish for you.

If you want to keep two Payara fish in the same tank you’ll want to add at least another 500 gallons to that minimum number if you want them to thrive.

Another reason why you need to provide enough space is for the sake of enrichment and comfort. These fish like to roam and will often run gentle but steady laps around your tank. Giving them a little bit of extra space can go a long way in making sure they can comfortably turn around in the tank.

Water Parameters

Payara are a freshwater fish that come from the Amazon basin. That means they’re used to warm water with a neutral to slightly acidic pH.

To replicate these conditions in your home aquarium, you’ll need to maintain the following water parameters.

  • Water temperature: 70 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 6.8 to 7.6
  • Water hardness: 5 to 15 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 3-10 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

Payara are a freshwater fish that is native to the Amazon basin. In the wild, they can be found in slow-moving rivers and streams.

When setting up a tank for Payara, it is important to replicate their natural habitat as much as possible. This includes using the right type of substrate and decorations.

The substrate in a Payara tank should be dark in color. This will help to keep the water looking clean and will make the fish feel more comfortable.

As for decorations, you can use either live or fake plants. Just make sure that the plants are not too big or they will take up too much space in the tank.

Payara also like to have a lot of hiding places. This can be achieved by using rocks, driftwood, or caves. Just make sure that the hiding places are not too small or the Payara will not be able to fit inside them.

Common Diseases

The Payara is a very hearty and durable fish. They don’t often fall ill, but it’s still important to be aware of the most common diseases that can affect them.

The two most common diseases that you’ll need to look out for are hole-in-the-head disease and ich.

Hole-in-the-head disease is a condition that’s caused by poor water quality. It presents itself as one or two pits/holes in the skin of your fish’s head.

Ich is a very common parasite that can become quite serious if it’s not dealt with. The most obvious sign of this disease is the series of white spots that will begin to cover the body of your fish.

There are plenty of other potential diseases that can affect this species as well, but they’re not as common.

Another thing to look out for is infection from cuts. The most common cause of this is keeping your Payara in a tank with a rough substrate (or aggressive species that want to fight).

In general, the best way to prevent these fish from getting sick is to maintain the quality of the water in their tank. A tank with clean and stable water conditions always leads to healthier fish who are more resistant to disease.

Behavior & Temperament

Payaras are one of the most aggressive freshwater fish in the world. They’re not afraid to attack other fish, and they have been known to kill their tank mates.

This is especially true when they’re kept in small tanks. They need a lot of space to roam, and when they don’t have it, they get frustrated. That frustration turns into aggression, and they take it out on anything that moves.

Another reason Payaras are so aggressive is because they’re constantly hungry. They’re voracious eaters and will consume anything they can fit into their mouths. This includes other fish, so you have to be careful about what you put in the tank with them.

The good news is that Payaras are only aggressive when they’re in the wild. When they’re kept in captivity, they tend to be a lot more mellow. They’re still aggressive eaters, but they’re not as likely to attack other fish unless they’re provoked.

Tank Mates

Payaras are a bit more difficult to keep than other freshwater fish. They’re not fussy about water conditions, but they do require a bit more care when it comes to food and tank mates.

For starters, Payaras are predators. They’re not shy about going after smaller fish. In fact, they might even view some of their tank mates as potential meals.

As a result, you need to be careful about the fish you pair them with. Any small or slow-moving fish is likely to become food. The same goes for fish that are sick or injured.

You also need to be careful about the food you feed them. Payaras are known to eat smaller fish, but they’re not above eating their tank mates either.

To be safe, it’s best to stick with larger fish that can hold their own. Tank mates that are too small or slow will simply become food. Here are some compatible species:


The Payara is a predatory fish, so much care must be taken when breeding. This species will readily eat their young, so a separate breeding tank is a must. The tank should be at least 150 gallons and well-filtered.

Place a layer of gravel on the bottom of the tank and add some hiding places. Driftwood, caves, and plants all work well.

When ready, add two females for every male. The female Payaras will be the larger of the two sexes.

Payaras are egg-scatterers, so the female will release her eggs and the male will fertilize them as they float in the water column.

The eggs will hatch in about 24 hours. Once they do, remove the adults from the tank. The fry will feed on microscopic organisms in the water. You can supplement their diet with baby brine shrimp.


The Payara is a large and impressive fish that is sure to be a standout in any aquarium. They are active and playful, and their long, curved teeth are truly unique.

While they are a challenging fish to care for, they are definitely worth the effort. With the right setup and care, they can be a real asset to your aquarium.

If you’re looking for a fish that is sure to turn heads, the Payara is a great choice.