Bichir: Habitat, Profile, Tank, Health, Breeding & More

Bichir is scientifically known as Polypteridae
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: July 16, 2024
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Is your Bichir acting funny? No worries. **This guide** dives deep into their natural home, quirky traits, tank setup, and lots more. **Keep reading** to find out how to keep these ancient pets **healthy and happy**.

Article Summary

  • Bichirs are ancient freshwater fish found in lakes and river basins in Africa and India.
  • They have a prehistoric appearance with snake-like bodies, prominent dorsal fins, and tentacle-like extensions called barbels.
  • Tank size is crucial; a minimum of 90 gallons is recommended due to their potential large size.

Species Summary: Freshwater Fish

Bichirs are a fascinating species of ancient freshwater fish with a rich history. They can be found in lakes and river basins across Africa and India. These unique fish have captured the attention of many due to their intriguing characteristics and evolutionary adaptations.

Bichir Fish Habitat and Adaptations

Bichirs have adapted to survive in murky waters. Their remarkable specialized breathing design and extraordinary senses make them unique species.

Bichirs have developed a specialized breathing design to access oxygen from the surface. While they have gills like most fish, bichirs also possess a modified swim bladder that acts as a lung.

Bichir possess a modified swim bladder that allows them to gulp air from the surface…

This allows them to gulp air from the surface and extract oxygen, supplementing their low oxygen levels of intake from the water. This adaptation is crucial for their survival in murky waters with lower oxygen levels.

In addition, The Ampullae of Lorenzini are specialized sensory organs on their head that allow them to detect weak electrical fields generated by other organisms. This ability is beneficial in murky waters with limited visibility, as it helps bichirs locate prey and navigate their surroundings.

Bichir Fish Behavior

Bichirs are nocturnal fish, meaning they are most active during the night. This is important to consider when creating a suitable environment for them in an aquarium.

Bichirs tend to visit the surface of the water regularly. This behavior is an instinct for them and serves a purpose in their survival. Bichirs can take in oxygen from the air by coming to the surface.


Bichirs have exhibited aggressive tendencies, especially towards smaller fish or those resembling prey.

Bichir Fish Lifespan

Bichirs are fascinating fish with a relatively long lifespan compared to many other species. On average, they can live for about 10 to 15 years, but with proper care, they can reach up to 20. If you decide to keep a bichir as a pet, you can expect to have a long-term companion.

Types of Bichir Fish

Bichirs (Polypteridae) belong to the family of ray-finned fish. They are part of the order Polypteriformes and the class Actinopterygii. Let’s briefly talk about the types of bichir.

Dinosaur or Senegal Bichir

The dinosaur bichir (Polypterus senegalus) is popular for its unique colors. It is often sought after by fish enthusiasts due to its vibrant and eye-catching appearance.

Albino Bichir

The albino bichir is a sought-after variation of the bichir species. It is characterized by its white coloration, which makes it stand out among other types of bichirs. Many fish keepers find the albino bichir to be particularly appealing.

Ornate Bichir

The ornate bichir is known for its large size and striking appearance. It has a yellow base color with flecks, which adds to its beauty. This type of bichir is often a favorite among fish enthusiasts who appreciate its unique coloration.

Saddled Bichir

The saddled bichir is the largest type of bichir and is easily recognizable due to its distinctive stripes and unique jaw structure. This type of bichir has a commanding presence in aquariums and is highly sought after by those looking for a visually striking fish.

Delhezi Bichir

The delhezi bichir is characterized by its grey coloration with yellow and green flecks. While not as well-known as other types of bichirs, it still has a unique beauty and can be a great addition to a fish tank.

Price and Availability Variations

Bichirs exhibit significant price and availability variations based on their color patterns and rarity. The color patterns of bichirs can range from solid black to shades of brown, green, and even albino—the rarer and more unique the color pattern, the higher the price.

Rarity also plays a crucial role in determining the price and availability of bichirs. Certain species of bichirs, such as the Polypterus endlicheri or the Polypterus senegalus, are more commonly found in the aquarium trade and tend to be more readily available and affordable. On the other hand, species like the Polypterus ornatipinnis or the Polypterus weeksii are considered rare and harder to come by, making them highly desirable and often commanding higher prices.

It is important to note that the price and availability of bichirs can vary greatly depending on the region and the specific market. While some color patterns and rare species may be sought more in certain areas, they may be less popular or less expensive in others.

Bichir Fish: Appearance

Bichirs are fascinating creatures with a prehistoric appearance that harks back to ancient ray-finned fish. Their unique features make them stand out in the aquatic world. Here’s what you need to know about their appearance:

Ancient Ray-Finned Fish: Bichirs have an uncanny resemblance to their prehistoric ancestors, displaying evolutionary traits preserved over time.

Snake-like Body: One of the most distinctive features of bichirs is their elongated, snake-like body. This streamlined shape allows them to navigate through water effortlessly.

A barred bichir exploring the tank
Bichir: Snake-like Body And Prominent Dorsal Fins

Dorsal Fins: Bichirs have prominent dorsal fins running along their bodies and backs, aiding in stability and maneuverability while swimming.

Tentacle-like Extensions: Another intriguing aspect of bichirs’ appearance is the presence of tentacle-like extensions called barbels near their mouths. These sensory organs help them detect food and navigate their surroundings.

Relation to Lungfishes and Archaic Ray-Finned Fishes: Bichirs belong to a group of fish known as Polypteridae, which includes lungfishes and other archaic ray-finned fishes. They share specific anatomical characteristics with these species.

Sexual Dimorphism

In addition to these remarkable attributes, bichirs exhibit sexual dimorphism, where male bichirs have a thicker anal fin than female bichirs. Bichirs also display differences in size and fin structure between males and females.

The smaller size and thicker anal fin of males can be used as distinguishing features, but consider other factors when determining the gender of a bichir. It is important to note that it is challenging to identify the gender of individual specimens solely based on appearance.

Bichir Fish Size

The Growth of Bichir

Bichirs can vary significantly depending on genetics, care provided, and specific type. Ranging from around 1 to 2.5 feet in length, they come in various sizes within this range.

Bichir Fish Tank

Bichirs are fascinating and unique fish requiring specific care in the aquarium setting. One of the critical factors to consider when setting up a bichir tank is the tank size requirement. It is recommended to have a minimum tank size of 90 gallons for these fish. This is because bichirs can grow quite large and need ample space to swim and explore their environment.

…bichirs can grow quite large and need ample space to swim and explore their environment

Additionally, it is essential to note that bichirs are hardy fish, meaning they are relatively resilient and can tolerate a range of water conditions. However, their needs must be met to ensure their well-being. For example, bichirs are sensitive to chemical cleaning agents, so avoiding using harsh chemicals when cleaning their tank is crucial. Instead, opt for natural cleaning methods to maintain a clean and safe environment for your bichirs.

Water Parameters

Bichirs, tropical fish, require specific water parameters for their well-being. The ideal temperature range is 75-82°F (24-28°C), while the pH level should be slightly acidic to neutral, between 6.5 and 7.5. Maintaining a hardness level of 8-12 dGH is crucial for their health.

Regular water changes and monitoring are crucial for maintaining optimal conditions in a bichir tank. Water changes help remove accumulated toxins and waste while monitoring the water parameters ensures they remain within the desired range.

Bichir: The Right Habitat

A bichir at the bottom of the tank with soft sandy substrate
Bichir Tank With Soft Sandy Substrate

When creating a suitable habitat for your bichir tank, it is vital to consider a few key factors. Firstly, habitat decorations such as plants, driftwood, and caves are essential for hiding spots and creating a natural environment for your bichir.

Furthermore, adding dim lighting, aquatic plants, and decorative items can enhance the overall aesthetic of the tank while also providing additional hiding places for your bichir. Considering these factors, you can create a suitable and comfortable habitat for your bichir.


Choosing a suitable substrate is also crucial, and opting for a soft sandy substrate is recommended to prevent accidental gravel ingestion.

Bichir Fish Tank Mates

Choosing suitable tank mates for your bichir is crucial to ensure a harmonious and peaceful aquarium environment. Bichirs are known to be aggressive towards smaller fish and may even prey on them. Therefore, it is crucial to choose tank mates that are compatible with their behavior and size.

Ideal Tank Mates

Some suitable tank mates for bichirs include peaceful mid-level fish like Congo tetras, danios, and rasboras. These fish are generally fast-swimming and active, which can help to create a dynamic and visually appealing tank. Additionally, their peaceful nature makes them less likely to provoke or be intimidated by the bichirs.

Another important consideration when keeping multiple bichirs together is the tank size. Bichirs can grow large, so providing enough space for each fish to establish its territory is crucial. A larger tank with plenty of hiding spots and caves can help to minimize aggression and provide a more natural environment for the bichirs and their tank mates.

Species to Avoid

It’s essential to be cautious of larger fish that may exhibit aggression towards them. Additionally, it’s necessary to exercise caution with small bottom-dwellers due to their territorial behavior. Considering these factors, you can ensure a harmonious and peaceful environment for your bichirs and their tank mates.

Feeding Bichir Fish

These carnivorous fish have specific dietary needs that fish keepers should know. Here are some critical points to consider when it comes to feeding your bichir:

Carnivorous Diet

Bichirs are natural carnivores, so their diet should consist mainly of protein-rich foods. This can include live, dry, and frozen options such as worms, shrimp, small fish, and pellets specially formulated for carnivores.

Nocturnal Feeding Behavior

Bichirs are nocturnal animals, which means they are most active during the night. Adjusting their feeding times to coincide with their natural behavior can help ensure they receive adequate nutrition. Consider feeding them in the evening or right before turning off the lights in their tank.

Diet Variety

Providing a varied diet is essential for the overall health of your bichir. Mixing different types of food helps mimic their natural feeding habits and prevents nutritional deficiencies. Offer a combination of live foods like bloodworms or brine shrimp, along with high-quality feed and dry or frozen options.

Food Accessibility

Size and health considerations ensure your bichir can access its food easily. Smaller bichirs may struggle with larger prey items, while larger ones may require bigger portions. Monitor their eating habits closely and adjust accordingly to prevent overfeeding or underfeeding.

By understanding the dietary needs of your bichir and following these care guidelines, you can provide them with a balanced diet that promotes optimal health. Remember to observe their behavior closely to ensure they thrive on their chosen diet.

Possible Diseases

Despite being resistant to diseases, Bichirs may still encounter some common issues. One such problem is Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich), a parasitic infection (flukes) that affects the skin and gills.

Poor water quality or injuries from sharp objects in the tank can lead to fin rot. Bacterial infections may also occur, causing ulcers or sores on the bichirs’ body surface. Lastly, fungal infections can manifest as white cotton-like growth on the fish’s scales and body.

Providing proper care and maintaining optimal water conditions is crucial to prevent these diseases from affecting your bichirs. Regularly monitor the behavior of your bichirs for any signs of abnormality, as early detection plays a critical role in timely action against potential diseases.

Breeding Bichir Fish

Breeding bichirs can be quite a challenge due to their specific requirements. Limited breeding information is available, and successful breeding in home aquariums is rare.

To increase the chances of successful breeding, it is essential to create the right conditions. Bichirs prefer cool water that is soft and acidic. Maintaining these parameters can help stimulate their natural breeding behaviors.

During the breeding season, male bichirs develop small protuberances called tubercles on their heads…

During the breeding season, male bichirs develop small protuberances called tubercles on their heads. These serve as visual cues to attract females. Once a female is ready to spawn, she lays eggs, which the male fertilizes.

Care For Fry

Unlike some other fish species, bichir parents do not provide any parental care to the eggs or fry. Once the eggs are laid, removing them from the main tank and placing them in a separate rearing tank with appropriate water conditions is crucial.

Feeding is a crucial aspect of raising bichir fry successfully. Once the eggs hatch, the fry will initially rely on their yolk sacs for nourishment. Bichir fry are small and have tiny mouths; once this yolk sac is fully absorbed, baby brine shrimp or commercially available powdered fry food can be excellent options for feeding bichir fry.

Feeding the fry multiple times a day is recommended in the early stages. This frequent feeding schedule ensures that they receive enough nourishment to thrive. Avoid overfeeding, as this can lead to water quality issues. Uneaten food can quickly decompose and pollute the water, harming the fry.

It is better to provide small amounts of food at a time and observe how much the fry consumes within a few minutes. Adjust the feeding amount accordingly to prevent wastage and maintain good water quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the water conditions for bichir?

Bichirs thrive in tropical freshwater environments. They prefer water temperatures between 75-82°F (24-28°C) and a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Maintaining good water quality with minimal ammonia and nitrite is crucial, so regular water changes and filtration are essential for their well-being.

What is the most common bichir?

The native Senegal Bichir (Polypterus senegalus) is the aquarium hobby’s most common and widely kept bichir species. Known for its distinctive appearance and hardy nature, it’s an excellent choice for beginner and experienced aquarists.

Are bichirs hard to keep?

Bichirs are generally considered hardy and relatively easy to care for, making them suitable for aquarists with some experience. They require a well-maintained aquarium with appropriate water conditions, a secure lid to prevent escape (they can breathe air), and a diet of varied, high-quality foods. Providing a suitable environment and monitoring water quality is crucial to their well-being.

What are the favorite foods of bichir?

Bichirs are carnivorous fish and enjoy a diet of live or frozen foods. Their favorite foods include small fish, shrimp, earthworms, and insect larvae. Offering a diverse menu helps ensure they receive essential nutrients and stay healthy.

What is the best substrate for bichir?

A fine sand substrate is recommended for bichirs. They often burrow and rest on the substrate, and the smooth texture of sand helps prevent injury to their delicate undersides. Additionally, sand mimics their natural riverbed habitats, providing a more comfortable environment for these fascinating fish.

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