Do you wish to make your tank feel more unique? How about a fish from the Primeval era, which diverted itself from the evolutionary tree of modern-day fish millions of years ago?

Well, let us introduce you to Bichirs. This fish will remind you of a cross between an eel, an axolotl, and a mudskipper.

While they are technically fish and can breathe underwater, they have a specialized set of breathing apparatus that enable them to breathe through air as well.

But this fish is not ordinary in any way. Bichirs are natural predators and have a knack for hunting smaller marine life. So they require special care if you desire to keep them as pets.

This article will help you understand their behavior, feeding habits, and ideal living conditions in an artificial environment if you ever decide to get one.

Generic Facts

About Bichirs
Scientific name Polypterus Bichir
Other popular names Dinosaur Eel
Family Polypteridae
Average Lifespan 15 to 20 years
Average size 10 to 30 inches
Diet Carnivore
Temperament Semi-aggressive
Breeding Egg-layers
Origin Africa
Type Freshwater

Habitat and Origin

They generally inhabit tropical freshwater lakes, floodplains or slow-moving streams and rivers, with a generous amount of murk and vegetation.

They are mainly found in lakes and river basins in Congo, Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Volta, Chad, and the Nile. Some subspecies have even been sighted in India.

Bichirs are sometimes seen stepping out of the water onto the muddy land for a gulp of air when required.

Physical Attributes and Size

Bichirs are a diverse group related to lungfishes and ray-finned fishes, having roots in the archaic family that were ancestors to our modern bony fishes.

They are big and have been reported to attain a size of approximately 30 inches. Although, they do not grow over 10-12 inches in captivity.

The first thing you will notice about them is their slender body which looks like an eel or a marine snake except for the presence of fins.

They have a series of short spiny dorsals finlets and an anal fin. The dorsal fin stretches all the way to the caudal fin.

The presence of short stumpy pectoral fins is a clear indication of their relation to prehistoric fishes. These act as arms to help them move around on the river bed and even outside the water.

They also have two tiny protruding projections as their nostrils, which help them detect food and prey during hunting.

Alongside that, they come in awide range of colors and patterns. All of them have been grouped differently based on their place of origin or features.

Types of Bichir

Generally all Bichirs look similar, the only difference being different colors and patterns of their body. The most common types are given as –

Dinosaur Bichir

Image Credit: Reddit User: OphanimWheels

This is the smallest species of Bichir, with a size of not more than 14 inches. They are also known as Senegal Bichir, as they are exclusively found in Senegal. This variety has a grayish hue with some dark irregular spots scattered throughout.

The ‘Platinum’ Senegal Bichir is a variant of the common Senegal Bichir with a very rare color gene that gives them clear white color, but it is not an albino because it has black eyes. It is expensive compared to any other variety.

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Delhezi Bichir

Image Credit: Reddit User: coinpile

Also known as the Barred Bichir, they are generally green or gray with dark-green or black-striped patterns all over the body.

Saddled Bichir

Image Credit: Reddit User: lilrs

These are among the largest Bichir, which can grow to 25-30 inches. But the crucial thing that distinguishes it from other Bichir is its jaws. Its lower jaw is longer than its upper jaw, which gives it a curved appearance.

Albino Bichir

A normal Bichir with the albinism mutation gene, giving it the signature spotless white color with red eyes. Sometimes they are referred to as Leucistic Bichir, but technically they are not leucistic.

Ornate Bichir

Image Credit: wikipedia

These are also quite big, reaching around 22-24 inches in length. But the main point of attraction is their contrasting yellow-black pattern all over the body. These are more popular than others among fish keepers and are comparatively expensive.

Life Expectancy

These Mesozoic-era fishes can live long, with some having reported a life span of over 20 years.

This feat can be achieved in artificial settings but will require extreme care and patience. But the heredity of a fish also plays a vital role in its life expectancy.

Male vs. Female

It is hard to visually differentiate between a male and female Bichir, as both have a surprisingly indistinguishable appearance.

Some studies have indicated that females are a tad bit bigger than males. And males have pointier tail fins, while females have pointier anal fins.

Another distinguishing feature is that the male fish will reach sexual maturity a few years faster than the female.

But other than that, there are no specific characters to define their sexual dimorphism.

Price and Availability

Their price can vary depending on the color patterns, size, and rarity. Albino and Ornate are among the costly ones, while Platinum Dinosaur Bichir is considered the most expensive.

While some can go as low as $15.00, some rarer ones can go up to $199.00. Plus, they are not bred all over the world, so they have to be exported if you do not belong to the parent country, which will cost more than usual.

Care Guide

Feeding Habits

Bichirs are purely carnivorous fish. You will not see them nob on plants or leaves in the wild. Therefore, you need to maintain a strict non-vegetarian diet.

By the way, if you plan on feeding them flakes or pellets, do not do it. It will not suffice. They need unprocessed, more bioavailable proteins than those commercially processed ones to remain active.

Interestingly, they are known to hunt at night, so they need to be fed at night. This can prove to be challenging for some.

Anyhow, the food items that they generally prefer are worms, night crawlers, small crustaceans, and mollusks.

But they do prey on small amphibians like frogs, and fishes if they get the opportunity. So, you can be creative with their feeding habits.

Some owners like to feed them Beef hearts, which is an excellent source of essential amino acids for the fish.

Behavior and Temperament

Bichirs have the deceiving appearance of a peaceful fish, but it is quite the opposite.

Although they are not super aggressive like Cichlids or Oscars, it is enough to cause a nuisance if left on their own with other companions.

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They are a nocturnal (super active at nighttime) fish species and have a tendency to hunt for smaller creatures, even fish sometimes.

They also feed quite a lot at night which some people may not be habituated with.

Having said that, they are bottom dwellers and will sometimes be seen standing on their pectoral “arm-like” fins from time to time.

Even though Bichirs spend most of their time at the bottom section, they will sometimes be seen going up top for a gulp of air.

Common Diseases

Bichirs are surprisingly resistant to diseases and can survive harsh conditions if the situation becomes like one. So you need not worry much about diseases.

Although, the common issues generally seen are Ich and flukes. The Ich appears more like dots on the body, while flukes appear as tiny thin threads hanging out of skin or gills.

Some Bichirs caught in the wild for sale might be infested with tapeworms. So, do not forget to quarantine it for a few days in a separate tank before transferring them to the main tank.

No matter what problem, it is always better to keep the water clean and murk-free.

Breeding

Most Bichirs are not recognized as good captive breeders. Even after so much advancement in fishery, their perfect breeding conditions ex-situ are still not known properly.

Barred Bichir and Dinosaur Bichir have been bred successfully by a few, but their mass breeding is still out of the question.

However, you can follow some basic protocol and pray that they will mate naturally when the time is right. Here are some things that are known to improve their mood for breeding-

  • Maintain slightly acidic water conditions than usual.
  • Give them high-quality protein food like live shrimps, worms, other crustaceans, etc.
  • Keep the water temperature slightly cooler (73 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Ramp up the vegetation density inside the tank, so that they choose a suitable spawning spot without much effort.

The spawning ritual mainly takes place with the male nudging the side of the female until she is ready to spawn some eggs.

In the wild, the female usually spawns 200 to 300 eggs on average, and after a few days’ time, the babies will emerge.

Sometimes predatory behavior is seen with the adults, so it is better to remove them from the span tank if you suspect something.

But if everything is fine, the babies will stay close to the mother for a few weeks until they are old enough to wander on their own.

Tank Recommendations

Tank Overview
Minimum Tank Size 50 gallons (200 L)
74°F to 82°F 74°F to 82°F
pH Level 6.2 to 7.5
Hardness 4 to 10 dGH
Lighting Requirements Low to Moderate

Tank Size

Bichirs can grow to quite a size. Therefore, they do require a big tank to roam around. Plus, they are generally long like a snake, so a tank with greater length is preferred more than a tank with greater height.

On that note, you must at least try to get a 50-gallon tank if you wish to keep one or two. If there are a couple, then you should probably double that size.

One more thing, a proper cover for your tank is a necessity. Bichirs have a tendency to jump out of the water. Without a sturdy lid, they will end up on the ground.

Tank Setup

Substrate

Bichirs are bottom feeders. So, the best kind of substrate would be sand. Not only is it soft, but also harmless if ingested accidentally.

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Moreover, it helps to mimic their natural habitat. The choice of sand is up to you, but it is always better to have a contrasting foreground.

Ensure to avoid any pH-altering substrates as they prefer the water close to neutral.

Plants

Most freshwater plants are viable as they have little to no business with plants. They only use them to hide and lay eggs.

Anubias Nana, Java fern, and Cryptophyte plants are common choices for many fish keepers.

Author Note- Do not overcrowd the tank with plants, or they will not have enough space to swim freely, which will make them agitated.

Decorations

A few commonly used decorations like mossy driftwood, boulders, or rocks can be placed inside. These can also be used as a shelter to hide if they feel uncomfortable.

Pro Tip- Try to avoid decoration with sharp edges.Bichirs have poor eyesight and can bump into them accidentally, hurting themselves in the process.

Filtration and Apparatus

Bichir fish prefer softer water and a pH close to neutral. Thus, a reliable monitoring system along with a highly efficient filtration kit would be the best possible move.

You can also use an automated buffer delivery system. It will periodically release chemicals to keep the acidity in check.

Suitable Companions

These fish stay close to the bottom of the tank mostly. So, preferably you can keep middle- or top-dwelling fishes with them.

Any bottom-dwellers will trigger their territorial aggression, and will result in the harassment of that fish. Maybe even prey upon them. So any kind of catfish or Plecos is out of the equation, especially if they are small.

A few suitable companions are –

Pro Tip-Ensure not to add too many tank mates as they will eat most of the food before it reaches the bottom. Or else, you will have to manually feed them.

FAQs

How many Bichirs can live together in the same tank?

Well, it depends upon the size of the tank. If it is big enough, you can accommodate a few. However, people generally do not keep more than two in a 50-gallon tank.

Can Bichir live without an air pump?

Yes, they can easily live without an air pump. They have specialized set of lungs which they use

to take up air out of water. So they have no issues with low oxygen concentration of water.

Can Bichir live with Tetras?

Bichirs can live with Tetra but ensure it is a big tank. But you should keep in mind that Bichirs are carnivorous and will not hesitate to hunt small fishes.

Do Bichirs have teeth?

They do have teeth but it is more like patches or rows of tiny teeth which look like hair. So, they are mostly used for grabbing stuff rather than tearing or chewing.

Conclusion

Bichirs are a fine addition to any tank. Its unique appearance does make your tank stand out, and it is not very difficult to care for them.

Many fish keepers who do not know about these stunning fish species hesitate to get them for their tank because they look savage.

They are quite hardy by nature. So a slight fluctuation in water conditions will not bother them. And if the conditions are close to ideal, they will last longer without any issues.

Interestingly, if you wish to see your pet Bichir come out of water, you can build yourself a paludarium, which is a vivarium for both terrestrial and aquatic life.

Occasionally they will come out for a gulp of fresh air. And if they see fit, they will stay there for a while and roam around on their stumpy little pectoral fins.

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

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