Bichir Care Guide: Simple Steps for a Happy Pet

Bichirs are fascinating freshwater fish that add a prehistoric touch to any aquarium. With their eel-like bodies and unique appearance, these little dragon-like creatures are a favorite among aquatic enthusiasts. Their quirky personalities, hardy nature, and striking patterns make them an appealing addition to your home tank.

Originating from the lakes, swamps, and floodplains of Africa and India, bichirs offer a peculiar charm to aquariums. Their impressive length of up to 17 inches adds a captivating element to your aquatic display. This guide will cover essential aspects of bichir care, ensuring your underwater pal thrives in its new habitat.

From tank requirements to feeding habits, this bichir care guide is your go-to resource. With proper care, your bichir will surely become the highlight of your aquarium, mesmerizing you with its distinct features and behavior. Dive into the world of bichirs and transform your tank into a prehistoric wonderland!

Bichir Species Overview

Bichirs are fascinating, prehistoric-looking fish belonging to the Polypteridae family. They make unique and interesting additions to a well-maintained aquarium. There are several different types of bichirs, each with its own distinctive color and pattern. To help you decide which variety is best for your aquarium, here’s a table summarizing key aspects of their care requirements:

Property Details
Scientific name Polypteridae
Common names Dinosaur Bichir, Dragonfin
Distribution Africa
Size 12-39 inches (depending on species)
Lifespan 15-20 years
Diet Carnivorous
Temperament Shy, generally avoids contact
Minimum tank size 75-125 gallons (depending on species)
Temperature 72-82°F (22-28°C)
pH 6.2-7.8
Water hardness 5-15 dGH
Care level Moderate
Filtration/Water Flow Moderate
Water type Freshwater
Breeding Spawning in plants
Breeding difficulty Moderate
Compatibility Large, non-aggressive tank mates

Keep in mind that proper care for your bichir involves providing them with a diverse diet, maintaining appropriate water conditions, and ensuring compatibility with suitable tank mates. By understanding and accommodating their specific needs, you can create a thriving environment where your bichir will grow and flourish.

Origins and Natural Habitat

Bichirs are fascinating fish with an ancient history, first discovered in the 1800s. They are believed to have originated from Africa, particularly in the Nile region. These living fossils belong to the Polypteridae family, a sister family of ray-finned fishes. They have developed unique characteristics such as functional lungs and electroreceptors, allowing them to sense electricity.

In their natural habitat, bichirs thrive in shallow, swampy waters, including tropical swamps, lagoons, and marshlands of Africa. These fish are typically nocturnal and come to life at night. They can be found in a mix of freshwater and saltwater environments, demonstrating their impressive adaptability.

Keep in mind that most bichirs available for aquariums are wild-caught since they aren’t commercially bred. So, when you’re committing to caring for a bichir, remember that you’re taking on the responsibility of providing a suitable environment for a creature directly taken from its natural habitat.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Shape

Bichir fish have a unique body structure that resembles a snake, with scaly skin texture and a long, slender body. The dorsal finlets line their backs, extending all the way down to their tails, which helps them move swiftly through the water. They can grow to various sizes depending on the species, but generally, their size ranges from 12 inches to 28 inches in length.

Color and Markings

Bichirs come in various colors and patterns, with shades ranging from dark brown to grayish-black. Some species might have distinctive markings, like spots or stripes, which add to their prehistoric appearance. Their colors and patterns might vary depending on the specific type of bichir you have in your aquarium.


These fascinating fish have a relatively long lifespan, with an average of 15 to 20 years. Males tend to live slightly shorter lives than females. By ensuring your bichir fish receive proper care, including a well-maintained aquarium and a nutritious diet, you can help them live a healthy, long life in your aquatic environment.

Types of Bichirs

Bichirs are fascinating fish that come in various sizes and colors, making them a popular choice for aquarium enthusiasts. In this section, we’ll explore some of the different types of bichirs you might encounter as you venture into the world of bichir care.

  • Shortfin Bichir
  • Mottled Bichir
  • Cross-River Bichir
  • West African Bichir
  • Congo Bichir
  • Nile Bichir
  • Guinean Bichir

The Shortfin Bichir (Polypterus Palmas) is known for its smaller fins compared to other bichirs. It has a unique silver-blue coloration with dark markings on its body. This species can grow up to 12 inches, making it suitable for medium-sized aquariums.

Mottled Bichirs (Polypterus delhezi) are named for their distinctive markings that resemble a mottled pattern. Their color ranges from light gray to dark brown, with contrasting white spots. They can grow up to 14 inches, so a larger tank is recommended.

For something a little more striking, consider the Cross-River Bichir (Polypterus mokelembembe). This species has a beautiful golden-yellow color with dark bands across their body. They typically grow up to 16 inches and require even larger aquariums to accommodate their size.

The West African Bichir (Polypterus ansorgii) stands out with its distinctly elongated body and beautiful patterning. They have a brownish-green color with dark bands and pale spots. This species grows up to 22 inches in length, so you’ll need a spacious tank to house them comfortably.

Another variety found in the Congo River Basin is the Congo Bichir (Polypterus endlicheri congicus). They have a striking pattern of light and dark bands, with a greenish-gray color on their body. They can reach up to 30 inches in size, making them one of the largest bichir species.

The Nile Bichir (Polypterus bichir bichir) is characterized by its dark brown or black coloration with lighter flecks. It can grow up to 28 inches long and inhabits the Nile River System in Africa.

Lastly, the Guinean Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis), which can be found in West Africa, has a sleek silver-gray color. It reaches a length of around 12 inches and has interesting patch patterns across its body.

Now that you’re familiar with these bichir types, you can choose one that best suits your aquarium’s size, style, and maintenance requirements.

Tank Setup

Caring for bichir fish involves setting up their tank properly to ensure their health and happiness. In this section, we’ll discuss the essentials of tank setup, including tank size, substrate, decoration, filtration, and water parameters. Following these guidelines will help you create a comfortable environment for your bichir.

Tank Size

When setting up a tank for bichir fish, the size of the tank matters. Bichir fish can grow quite large, so it’s essential to provide them with ample space to swim and explore. At minimum, a 75-gallon tank is recommended for one adult bichir. For each additional bichir, add another 30 gallons to ensure they have enough room to move around. Remember that larger tanks provide better water quality and a more stable environment for your fish.


The substrate in a bichir tank should be soft and smooth, as these fish often dig and burrow. A suitable option is fine sand, which allows them to exhibit natural behaviors without risking injury. Avoid using sharp or rough gravel, as it can damage their sensitive undersides.


Bichir fish appreciate a well-decorated tank that provides hiding spots and enrichment. You can use various aquarium-safe decorations, such as driftwood, rock caves, and large artificial plants. Ensure that the decoration materials are smoothly textured to prevent injury to your bichir. Creating a mix of open swimming spaces and hiding spots will keep your fish feeling secure and comfortable.


Proper filtration is crucial for maintaining good water quality in your bichir tank. These fish produce a significant amount of waste, so a powerful external filter, such as a canister filter, is ideal. Make sure the filtration system is rated for the tank size you are using, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance and cleaning.

Water Parameters

Maintaining stable and appropriate water parameters is essential for your bichir’s health. They thrive in temperatures between 76°F and 83°F, so an aquarium heater and thermometer are necessary. Bichir fish prefer slightly acidic to neutral water, with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5. Maintain a low nitrate level (<20 ppm) and ensure ammonia and nitrite levels are at 0 ppm, by conducting regular water changes and monitoring water parameters with a testing kit.



Bichirs are carnivorous fish with a strong preference for protein-rich food. To keep your bichir happy and healthy, you should provide a well-balanced diet that includes:

  • Live or frozen foods: Offer them brine shrimp, bloodworms, and blackworms as these are excellent sources of protein.
  • Pellets: High-quality carnivorous fish pellets contribute to a balanced diet and are readily accepted by bichirs.
  • Occasional treats: Offer small pieces of fresh or thawed seafood, such as shrimp or fish, as a nutritious treat.

Keep in mind that while bichirs might be tempted to eat smaller fish in the tank, it’s essential to provide a proper diet, as maintaining their health is equally important.

Feeding Schedule

As nocturnal creatures, bichirs are most active during nighttime, and that’s when they should be fed. Follow these suggestions for a successful feeding schedule:

  • Frequency: Feed your bichir every day, ideally during the evening hours to mimic its natural feeding pattern.
  • Portion control: Offer enough food that your bichir can consume within 2-3 minutes, to avoid overfeeding.
  • Monitor their behavior: Keep an eye on your bichir during feeding time, and adjust the portion size and feeding frequency if necessary.

By providing a well-balanced diet and maintaining a consistent feeding schedule, you’ll ensure your bichir thrives in its environment. Remember, a healthy bichir makes for a happy aquarium owner!

Suitable Tank Mates

When choosing tank mates for your bichir, it’s essential to find fish that will coexist peacefully without causing stress or harm. Bichirs are generally compatible with large fish and some carnivorous species. However, it’s essential to avoid tank mates that are too small or aggressive.

Here are some suitable tank mates for your bichir:

  • Oscar
  • Large Cichlids
  • Plecos

Keep in mind that the compatibility may vary depending on the specific species or individual temperament of each fish. As always, monitor your tank inhabitants closely to ensure they are getting along well and are not showing signs of stress or aggression. If you notice any issues, separate them as soon as possible.

By following these guidelines and carefully choosing the right tank mates, your bichir should have a comfortable and enjoyable living environment. Enjoy your fascinating prehistoric-looking fish and its thriving aquatic community!



Determining the sex of your Bichir fish can be a bit challenging, but it’s essential for successful breeding. Male Bichirs typically have thicker and more muscular anal fins compared to the females. Their pectoral fins will also have a more pointed appearance. Female Bichirs, on the other hand, have rounder and wider anal fins and more fan-shaped pectoral fins. If you’re still unsure, it might be helpful to gently turn your fish over and observe the vent area. Males have a larger and more protruding vent, whereas females have a smaller and flatter vent.


Once you’ve identified male and female Bichirs, you can begin preparing for the spawning process. Follow these steps to create a suitable environment for breeding:

  1. Condition your Bichirs: Provide a diverse and high-quality diet to encourage breeding behaviors. Feed them live or frozen foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and white worms to improve the overall health and vitality of your fish.
  2. Lower the water temperature: Bichir fish prefer slightly cooler water for breeding. Gradually decrease the tank temperature to around 76°F (24°C) to simulate their natural breeding environment.
  3. Add thick plants or spawning mops: Bichirs lay their eggs among dense vegetation. Providing thick plants, such as Java moss or artificial spawning mops, will give them a suitable spawning site.
  4. Monitor the activity: Once the conditions are set, carefully observe your Bichirs for mating behaviors. Males will begin courting the females by swimming around or under them and rubbing their bodies. The female will then lay her eggs in the chosen spawning site, and the male will follow to fertilize them.
  5. Care for the eggs: After successful fertilization, remove the parents from the breeding tank to ensure they don’t eat their eggs. The eggs will hatch in about 3-4 days, and you’ll need to provide the Bichir fry with suitable food like micro-worms or baby brine shrimp.

Breeding Bichirs can be a rewarding experience if you pay attention to their specific needs and provide a supportive environment. Remember to be patient and enjoy observing these fascinating, ancient fish as they reproduce.

Health and Medical Issues

Bichirs, just like any other fish species, can suffer from various health and medical issues. In this section, we’ll discuss common diseases and preventative measures to help keep your bichir healthy and thriving in its environment.

Common Diseases

  • Ich (White Spot Disease): Ich is a highly contagious parasite that manifests as small white spots on your bichir’s body. To treat ich, slowly raise the tank’s temperature to 86°F (30°C) and add aquarium salt or medications specifically designed to kill the parasites.
  • Fin Rot: Caused by bacterial or fungal infections, fin rot can occur when your bichir’s fins become damaged or if the water quality is poor. To treat fin rot, improve water quality and consider using an antibacterial or antifungal medication.
  • Bloat: Bloat in bichirs can be caused by overfeeding or consuming food too quickly, which leads to a buildup of gas in the digestive system. Make sure to feed your bichir an appropriate diet and watch for signs of stress or discomfort. If you suspect bloat, reduce feeding and monitor your fish closely.

Preventive Measures

  • Water Quality: Maintaining a clean and stable aquatic environment is crucial in preventing diseases. Regularly check your water parameters (pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels) and perform water changes as needed.
  • Quarantine New Fish: Before adding new fish to your tank, ensure they’re healthy by quarantining them first. This minimizes the risk of introducing diseases or parasites to your bichir and other tank inhabitants.
  • Stress Reduction: A stressed bichir is more susceptible to diseases, so provide a comfortable environment. Ensure proper tank size, hiding spots, and avoid overstocking to reduce stress.
  • Balanced Diet: Feed your bichir a balanced and varied diet, which can help boost its immune system and reduce the likelihood of diseases. Offer a mix of live, frozen, and pellet foods that are specifically formulated for carnivorous fish.

Remember, staying vigilant and maintaining a clean and healthy environment for your bichir is the key to preventing health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal tank size for bichirs?

The ideal tank size for a bichir depends on its species and size. Generally, a minimum of 100 gallons of water per bichir is recommended. Make sure to provide enough space for them to swim and explore their environment.

What are suitable tank mates for a bichir?

Bichirs can coexist with other fish species, but ensure that their tank mates are of similar size or larger, as bichirs might eat smaller tank mates. Suitable tank mates include cichlids, larger catfish, and other large fish species. Be cautious when introducing new tankmates and monitor their behavior closely.

How often should I feed my bichir?

Feed your bichir every day or every other day, depending on its size and age. Juvenile bichirs may require more frequent feeding, while adult bichirs can be fed every other day. Always provide a balanced diet, including live or frozen foods like shrimp, small fish, and worms.

What water parameters are best for bichir health?

Maintain water temperatures between 76 to 83°F (24 to 28°C), with a pH level between 6.0 and 8.0. The water hardness should be kept between 5 to 20 GH. Consistent water quality is essential for your bichir’s health, so conduct regular water tests and replace 10-20% of the water weekly.

Are there any special requirements for bichir habitat?

Bichirs thrive in dimly lit environments with plenty of hiding places like rocks, driftwood, and plants. These are nocturnal fish, so providing them with a comfortable and secure habitat is crucial for their well-being. Additionally, since they are known to be escape artists, ensure that your tank is adequately covered.

How can I ensure proper growth for my bichir?

To promote healthy growth, provide your bichir with a balanced diet and maintain optimal water parameters. Regular water changes and tank cleaning will help maintain a suitable environment. Keep a close eye on your bichir’s overall well-being and behavior, and make necessary adjustments to ensure they remain healthy and happy.