Bichir – A Complete Guide (Care, Diet, Facts)

These eel-liked-bodied fish will give any aquarium that visual twist of appeal to any community aquarium. Bichir’s are a popular breed of fish for a ranked environment due to its beauty. They are truly a unique and bright fish that catches everyone’s eye. At most pet stores you have the option of buying albino Bichir that has full white bodies and bright red eyes; that will add a pop to even the best tanks.

This fish may not be the easiest to care for; thus, being said it isn’t the best option for a beginner aquarium owner. Although, who doesn’t want a fish that looks like it came from the time of the dinosaurs? Birchers are classified as “living fossils.” A sister family to the day-finned fish and have taken some of their abnormalities such as a functioning pair of lungs and the organ that allows the Bircher to be able to sense electricity.

These are 12 species in this breed of fish; all originating from the freshwater ways of tropical Africa. They were given the scientific name of Genus Polypterus meaning “many wings.” They revived this name due to their appearance. These are large and aggressive fish that need large living space.

As mentioned before these fish are for experienced tank owners due to their special carnivores’ diet and special attention they call for. These fish are rarely commercially bred and are normally caught in the wild and brought into your pet stores. These fish are not cheap and can cost over 100 dollars for a fish of good quality. When buying juveniles, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference in the sexes of these fish.


Typical Behavior

Bichir is a predatory fish; meaning they hunt for their prey. In order to be a good predictor, you need to have some sort of form of aggression. These fish have moderate aggression. Bichir has been known to pick at or even eat fish smaller than them in size. Although, if ranked with fish that are larger than them in size they are not known to go after them. It’s believed that they feel intimidated by the larger fish.

Being a bottom-dwelled these fish will rarely migrate to the middle or upper region of the tank. They are nocturnal fish and do most of their feeding at night. Bichir has a very poor sense of sight and relies on different senses to find their prey. These fish can breathe air. They have a set of paired lungs that help change the gas in poorly oxygenated areas. Bichir has two small openings on the top of their head that they breathe through.  The openings are called spiracles.

Another strange feature these fish have is the fact that they walk around in the substrate of your tank. They use their tail fin and their pectoral fins using a notion that mimics the “walk.” Once scientists discovered this characteristic, they began looking into the idea that maybe they can survive on land. With success scientists developed the idea of these prehistoric animals being on land, it would be steps towards an evolutionary change.

Bichir Appearance

Being a fish that leans more toward their prehistoric ancestors, these fish aren’t like most you come across today. Bichir is one of the few oldest living lines of fish that run to the bony fish family. They are also the sister fish to a fish that is called the ra-finned fish. A lot can happen to a fish in over 60 million years. Housing characteristics from each of their family members. He got some from ray-finned fish, lungfish, and tetrapods. These fish have a whole row of dorsal fins and scales.

Within the breed of Bichir, there are 12 species within the breed. While all have some similar characteristics each of them has the characteristics that set them apart from the next. Bichir’s have nostrils that protruding nostrils that compensate for their terrible eyesight. Their large nostrils can pick up scents from a good distance away. They use their sense of smell to navigate, find food, and keep away from predators. It’s hard to truly dictate the difference between a male and a female.

The only difference that sets the two apart visually is that the female is slightly bigger; while the male has slightly larger and broader anal and dorsal fins. While there are 12 species within the Bichir breed you will only find a few different species in your local pet store. Unless you catch and tank the others yourself.

Dinosaur Bichir

The Dinosaur Bichir has other names that you may see in a pet store; such as the Grey Bichir or the Senegal Bichir. This breed of Bichir’s is known to be one of the smallest in the family running roughly around 14 inches full grown. This fish has an oblong grey body with saw-like dorsal fins and abnormally large pectoral fins. Dinosaur Bichir do locomotion using their dorsal fins and pectoral fins. Although, they are going to be found grey a majority of the time they have been found in other hues. Some other hues are white, blue, and pink.

Ornate Bichir

The ornate was given the scientific name of Polypterus Ornatipinnis. This colorful breed of Bichir will add color to any tank. Yellow lines it’s back in a pattern hard to resist; with dark brown fins, face, and stomach. Although the base colorings are not always brown they can vary from grey to brown tint. The Ornate Bichir are one of the most common fish to be found inside another’s tank. Due to its availability in the wild. This specific breed of Bichir grows to be around 24 inches long. Measuring to be one of the largest Bichir breeds.

Delhezi Bichir

This fish was given the scientific name of Polypterus Delhezi. These beautiful species are bought often due to their coloration pattern. Delhezi Bichir has grey bodies with yellow or green spots amongst it. This fish grows to be roughly 17 inches.

Saddled Bichir

Given the scientific name of Polypterus Endlicheri. This species grows to be a whopping 30 inches. Saddled Bichir has an off jaw. Having the lower jaw extending out further than the upper jaw. This makes it easy to separate this breed from its relatives. Saddled Bichir is a faint yellow color with bands along its back. The bands vary from dark brown to black color.

Albino Bichir

The Albino Bichir is a variation of the Dinosaurs Bichir. With a full white body and red eyes. These fish are just fish with no pigment. Although, their white bodies and red eyes can brighten up your fish tank.

Nile Bichir

Given the scientific name of Polypterus Bichir Bichir. Nile Bichir grows to be roughly 28 inches long. This fish is grey with a black vertical band that fades with maturity. The older the fish gets the lighter the marking gets. This Irgun of Bichir’s isn’t found in pet stores as often as other variations of the fish.

Other Bichir’s

As mentioned before there are 12 species in the family of Bichir’s; although, it’s not common for you to find all 12 in your local pet store. With each variation comes different needs, sizes, and coloration. So, make sure to not only do your research on the breed as a whole but the specific species you purchase from the store.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Bichir’s are native to the freshwater ways of Africa and the Nile River. Being nearly blind these fish live in muddy waterways that decrease predator’s ability to see. Seeking equal opportunity rather than being in an ecosystem where they become easy prey.

Being a rare breed of fish with fully functioning lungs these fish can survive in water conditions with low oxygen levels as well as environments with low water levels. They can and prefer to live in dirty water in the wild because of their keen sense of smell hunts their prey better than their eyes can.

Tank Set-Up

These large fish need specific tank measurements in order to live well in a ranked environment. They prefer softer waters although will not die without. Being from the Nile River/Africa they need water between the temperature of 72°F and 82°F. They prefer neutral Ph which is between 6.5 and 7.5.

When choosing substrates, it’s important to keep the breed in mind; as these are bottom dwellers. You can use pebbles; although they aren’t found near pebbles in the wild. Sand will mimic their natural habitat, so this is the best choice.

Plants are not a must as they have a pair of lungs that help them breathe. Even though it’s not a must, it’s a good option to keep some of the direct light off the fish. You may add decorations if you fancy, but these fish don’t call for any. Remember to keep some space from the top of your tank to the lid to provide some space with fresh air. Bichir’s enjoy freshwater and do come up for air everyone in a while. Filtration is not needed for your fish to live but is a must for water quality.

Old leftover food gives out a toxin that can kill fish if not cleaned. Which is the soul’s job of a filtration system. Keep a tight lid on your tank at all times as Bichir’s can and have found themselves before jumping or crawling out of tanks. Research the specific species of Bichir to ensure that it doesn’t need other water requirements. As this is for the majority and some call for something a little different.

Tank Size

Being a large fish, they need a large space to live in. As juveniles, they need a tank that holds roughly 30 gallons. As adults, they need a minimum of 90 gallons. Keep in mind that Bichir’s need plenty of space to move. Being a bottom-dwelling fish, they need more space lengthwise and don’t care as much about depth.

Bichir Tank Mates

Being a semi-aggressive fish, they pair well with fish with equal or less aggressive personalities. The bigger last concern you should keep in mind is that they are predator fish so if a fish is small enough to eat, they will eat it. They are bottom-dwelling fish that will be found at the top to get fresh air. So, finding fish that are middle or top dwelling fish would add fish to more regions rather than flooding one region.

Bichir’s are slow-paced fish, so people have run into problems with faster more active fish stealing their food. Being bottom-dwelling fish, they can be put into starvation due to food never reaching their region. It’s important to ensure all your fish are getting fed.

If you begin starving your Bichir they will go into fight or flight mode and will begin attacking other tank mates in order to stay alive. So, if your other fish begin looking beat up try feeding a little more or a little more often and see if it stops. If your Bichir is hunting your other fish it’ll be done at night and discovered early in the morning. Bichir’s are night hunters.

Keeping Bichir’s Together

You can keep multiple Bichir’s together as long as there is the appropriate room for them all. They often will form an alliance called a “poly pile” so these fish are sociable. Don’t put juvenile Bichir’s in with a mature Bichir because they will eat their own kind. Any smaller fish looks like a meal the same breed or not.

Care Guide

Bichir’s are a sturdy fish that doesn’t promote many issues, being a hardy fish, they tend to live long lives. Bichir’s aren’t picky when it comes to ranked environments as long as their water needs are met. The biggest issue with Bichir’s is the illnesses they are prone to. Coming from the wild these fish need to be quarantined for a minimum of 4 weeks before they are added to your tank. This will prevent contamination from your whole tank.

One sickness they are prone to be a skin and Gill fluke called Macrogyrodactylus Polyptery. This will look as if they have fine threads all over their scales. One sign to look for is to watch and see if the fish is rolling around and rubbing itself on the sides of everything. This is curable with medication. Tapeworm is another common disease in wild-caught Bichir’s. Along with other variations.

Parasites will use the fish as a host and will lay eggs inside the intestines or your fish hatching and being pushed out of the fish into the water. The eggs are then eaten by other fish or crustaceans and the process continues. A majority or Bichir’s are wild-caught and may be carrying some sort of disease or parasite. It’s important to be cautious and not spread it to your whole tank. As one sickness can kill off your entire community.


Bichir’s prefer live food over food pellets or other variations of food. Being a carnivorous fish, they enjoy small vertebrae, insects, other fish, and crustaceans. Being a nocturnal animal, they prefer to be fed at night. Although, they can be tricked if you turn the lights off this will mimic nighttime and bring out their predator instincts.


Bichir’s are living fossils that could make a great member of a tank of an intermediate to professional hobbyists. Being a large fish with special care instructions this is not a beginner’s fish. In good living conditions, this fish has the potential to live for 20 years. There are 12 species in the Bichir breed, each alike but very different in varying factors. Before purchasing do your research on the breed. You will enjoy this breed in any large tank.

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