Bichir fish in the aquarium

Everybody is amazed by dinosaurs that had inhabited the Earth before humans. This giant creatures are a mystery to this day. How about owning a one?

Bichir species are ancient fish which will be a great addition to your tank. Though they've been around for more than 60 million years, they remain relatively unchanged. That is why this fish often called a dinosaur bichir and also because of the fact that they swim slowly in a way that gives them the appearance of walking like dinosaurs.

They have long, eel-like bodies and they are really popular among aquascapers because of their unique look and bright coloration.

a fish tank

Basic information

Unfortunately, those spectacular creatures, are not kind of hardy fish that are easy to care for. There is a huge range of water parameters that those fish can adapt for and not experienced aquarist should be able to maintain those conditions. But on the other hand, they have some special dietary demands that rank bichir care in terms of difficulty in moderate level. In exchange, if you stick to some recommendations, you will get living fossils that will please the eye and travel you through time.

Its scientific name 'bichir polypterus' means literally many wings and refers to the characteristic series of spiny appearances on the dorsal fin. Their iconic attributes are also large pectoral fins which are useful in locomotion.

a fish tank

They are a sister family of ray-finned fishes. What they have in common, is a similar organ for breathing- a pair of functional lungs. Those enable them to breathe air and they can be outside a water tank for some periods of time as long as they keep being wet. On the downside, this means that bichir polypterus can drown if you cut it off from an oxygen supply. This ability probably evolved to help a dinosaur bichir to live in muddy water with low oxygen levels. Due to existence of the lung-like organ you will quite often witness your ancient looking fish swimming to the water surface to take a gulp of air.

Other specific feature of this fish is in their bodies the Ampullae of Lorenzini can be found. These are electroreceptors that allow this unusual fish to sense electricity. You have to admit that this really impressive!

And last but not least is a fact that freshwater fish have also incredibly armored skin, that protects it from other carnivorous fish.

a huge fish tank

Apperance around the world

Bichir fish are part of the Polypterus genus, which contains above 10 species in total. Their natural habitat is in tropical Africa and the Nile river systems. We may distinguish examples of species that have similar characteristics but they vary in size and coloration:

  • Ornate bichir- considered widely as the most attractive fish of the bichir family. Also known as swamp dragon or dragonfish

  • Polypterus senegalus- more widespread than any other bichir. Commonly known as the senegal bichir or grey bichir.

  • Delhezi bichir- one of smaller fish within these species. They can grow 'only' up to 15 inches long. They’re primarily grey with flecks of yellow and green and some short black stripes.

  • Saddled bichir- average adult bichirs of this kind reach up to 30 inches. They are normally a whitish-yellow color.

  • Albino bichir- those are not other species but it is definitely worth mentioning because this type is popular to get it into our tank due to completely white skin and red eyes.

the albino bichir

This is a hard to differentiate between a male and a female. Males usually have thicker anal fins than females. However, this is only true for mature males. It's impossible to do so among juveniles. The other indicator can be that females tend to be larger fish than the male ones.

the bichir fish

Feeding habits

First of all, bichirs are nocturnal predatory fish. They eat at night, rest in the daytime. Because of the poor eyesight, they have to use other senses. The bad eyesight is compensated with a good sense of smell and their ability to sense electricity emitted from other objects or animals around them. They can easily locate their prey.

If you feed them with live food, it is going to awake their natural predatory instincts. You may feed them with bloodworms, frozen shrimps like i.g. brine shrimp, small fishes or carnivore pellets.

As a nocturnal fish, it prefers to be fed at night with lights off. Also you have to make sure that other tank mates will not steal their food because they are bottom dwellers so it means that other fish can eat their food before it reaches the bottom of the tank.

Remember to use high quality food to have healthy fish without potential sources of infections in the aquarium.

the bichir fish

Tank mates

And how about other fish in the aquarium? You have to know that bichirs are aggressive fish and will ambush any fish that they think will fit in their mouths. Small fish are not good inhabitant for them as they probably will be eaten during the night.

Those are examples of large fish that do well in a bichir tank:

  • Oscar fish

  • Jack Demspey fish

  • Large cichlids like i.g. the Flowerhorn or the Peecock Bass

  • Black Ghost Knife Fish

  • Elephant-nose Fish

  • Silver Dollar fish

  • Other bichirs

an oscar fish

What is needed?

Firstly, since dinosaur bichirs spend most of their time on the bottom of the tank, it is crucial to use a substrate that does not scratch them. For this purpose a sandy substrate will be great for most fish within bichir species.

Secondly, the size of the aquarium. This is probably the biggest obstacle for bichir keepers. Bichir tank should be at least 90 gallons! for one mature bichir fish. Such a large aquarium is not affordable for everyone. Sometimes, the owner makes a decision to start with smaller aquarium and then, change the bichir tank into bigger one when the fish becomes larger. This approach is not recommended as it is usually better said than done.

Bichir polypterus is a pretty hardy fish but the optimal water temperature is from 74°F to 82°F. The thing that should be considered as a must-have is a cover over the aquarium. It is helpful in terms of reducing the risk of any diseases to external gills of our fish. The temperature of the atmospheric air and water is different. The tank lid solves the problem. The air between the surface of water and the cover is warmer.

While bichir can get their oxygen from the surface, you should change the water regularly and monitor water conditions in your aquarium with a test kit.

an aquarium with a cover

Do you want a dinosaur?

More importantly we should ask, can you provide proper tank conditions to the dinosaur bichir? If the answer sounds yes, then you may purchase one of previously mentioned species. If tank setup and a little bit of an attention to their care will be done well, they can live up to 20 years. This is should definitely not be a beginners choice but you may admire them in aquatic stores or in the zoo in which they have a happy life.