Dinosaur Bichir Care: Lifespan, Tank Mates, Diet, & Health

dinosaur-bichir-care
Written by Jordan

Quick Stats

  • Family: Polypteridae
  • Scientific Name: Polypterus senegalus
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Water conditions: Freshwater, 25 – 27 degrees Celsius (77 – 80F), 6.5-7.5 pH, 8-12 dGH
  • Max Size: 46 centimeters (18 inches)
  • Minimum tank size (as an adult): 340 Liters (90 gallons)

Brief Overview: Dinosaur Bichir Care

The Dinosaur Bichir is known by many names: Senegal Bichir, Reed Fish, Dinosaur Eel, and Swamp Dragon are just a few. The unique appearance of this species makes it easily identifiable. Bichirs are characterized by a long, thin, eel-like body, pronounced teeth, protruding nostrils, and wide, iridescent eyes. The Dinosaur Bichir also had a serrated dorsal fin and large scales, resembling a dragon.

Though they resemble eels, Dinosaur Bichirs are unrelated to the snake-like marine dwellers. This species and other Bichirs are unique enough to exist as the sole occupants of the Polypterus genus.

The Dinosaur Bichir is native to Africa and India where it inhabits heavily-vegetated, slow-moving water systems. A successful carnivore, this species utilizes the vegetation and murky waters of their home to lie in wait and ambush unsuspecting prey. Bichirs utilize long, protruding nostrils to scent their prey and thick scales to protect themselves from injury.

Dinosaur Bichirs have a swim bladder that acts as a primitive lung, enabling this species to directly breath oxygen at the water’s surface and to survive for extended periods of time, as long as they remain wet, out of the water. Bichirs are fairly common in their native waters and may even be found in the accumulated water of roadside ditches.

Discovered in Egypt 200 years ago by French naturalist E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, the origins of these fish date back to the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. The name polypterus translates to “many fins,” referring to the serrated dorsal finlets along their back.

Dinosaur Bichir Lifespan

How Long Do Dinosaur Bichirs Live For?

Dinosaur Bichirs have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years or more in an aquarium with excellent care and conditions.

How fast/slow should you expect your Dinosaur Bichir to grow?

Juvenile Bichirs from the pet store are usually between 10 and 15 cm (4 to 6 inches) in length. Dinosaur Bichirs grow relatively slowly, perhaps 2 to 3 cm a month, taking several years to reach their maximum size.

What’s Dinosaur Bichir’s max size?

The maximum size of a Dinosaur Bichir kept in captivity is around 46 centimeters (18 inches) if kept in a tank of satisfactory proportions. In the wild, this species is known to exceed 70 cm (28 inches).

Different types of Bichir

There are two subspecies of Dinosaur Bichir:

P.s. senegalus: This subspecies sports three horizontal bands as juveniles which fade as the fish matures. The upper jaw is slightly longer than the lower jaw, and the coloration is brownish-grey to olive on the dorsal surface and white on the ventral side. This fish has 8 to 11 dorsal finlets.

P.s. meridionalis: This subspecies can grow up to 110 cm (40 inches) in the wild and 80 cm (32 inches) in captivity. These fish also sports an olive-grey coloration but their upper and lower jaws are approximately the same lengths. Individuals of this subspecies usually have 9 or 10 dorsal finlets.

Bichirs are a type of large ray-finned fishes indigenous to water systems in Africa. Here are a few other types of Bichir commonly kept in the fishkeeping hobby.

Ornate Bichir: Though one of the most aesthetic types of Bichir, this species is quite timid, so seeing them out and about in their tank during the day is rare. Ornate Bichirs are also known to be more aggressive and grow larger than the Dinosaur Bichir.

Saddled Bichir: Not very active during the day, this species swims slowly looking for food. Considering it can grow to 75 cm long, it’s better to keep this species in a tank alone.

Barred Bichir: Native to the Kongo River, this fish is not very active during the day and spends the majority of its time in caves, crevices, and other shelters.

Reed Fish: This predatory species is also known as the Rope Fish or Snakefish and is mainly only active at night. A slow swimmer that prefers shelters, this fish will spend its nights hunting any fish smaller than 3 inches.

Dinosaur Bichir Diet & Feeding

What do Dinosaur Bichirs eat in the wild?

The Dinosaur Bichir is found in dark, slow-moving freshwater systems in Africa where they utilize an ambush strategy to hunt almost anything they can catch. Due to poor eyesight, this species relies primarily on scent to find its prey.

What foods are recommended for Dinosaur Bichirs?

In an aquarium setting, Dinosaur Bichirs are voracious eaters and not picky when it comes to diet. You can feed your Bichir shrimp, mussels, silversides, worms, and almost any other variety of live food. Dinosaur Bichirs will also eat frozen food items and sinking pellets.

Bichirs are voracious eaters and predators. Their eyesight is poor and they rely mostly on their smelling senses to locate food. You can give a variety of foods to Bichirs, meaty treats and live foods being their favorite.

You can feed shrimps, prawns, mussel, whitebait, silversides, worms and more varieties of live foods. They are also been found eating the foods of other tank mates with equal zeal. So, you can give them anything, live foods, frozen foods or sinking pellet foods to bring variety in their diet.

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Bichirs prefer being fed when your light is turned off. I recommend feeding them a quality sinking pellet. If they don’t feed on pellets right away you could starve them for a week and train them to eat pellets. The other option is to feed them live or freeze-dried food; this option can get expensive. A pellet I highly recommend is Hikari’s sinking carnivore pellets. This pellet makes it easy to wean fishes off of live food. Another reason I like this pellet is that it doesn’t cloud your water (still make it a habit to remove uneaten food).

Dinosaur Bichir Feeding habits

Dinosaur Bichirs are night predators, so adults of this species will rarely eat with the light on. Feed your Dinosaur Bichirs in the dark once a day, but do not feed your fish more than they can consume in 2 or 3 minutes to avoid food waste negatively affecting water quality. Bichirs are not particularly messy eaters, but their high-protein diet can eventually lead to rising nitrite levels.

Dinosaur Bichir Tank Setup

Like all fish, Dinosaur Bichirs thrive best in a tank that resembles their natural habitat and suits their needs.

A brief overview of natural habitat

Dinosaur Bichirs are indigenous to the water systems of 26 African countries where they inhabit slow-moving and densely vegetated waters.

Dinosaur Bichir Tank size

The minimum tank size requirement for a Dinosaur Bichir is 340 liters (90 gallons) due to their large adult size. Shallower tanks with more floor space are ideal for these bottom-dwellers, so consider tanks at least 4 feet long.

If you need to check the size of your aquarium, feel free to use my aquarium volume calculator.

Dinosaur Bichir Water Conditions

Dinosaur Bichirs can tolerate a fairly wide range of water conditions but this should not be an excuse to forego regular water maintenance.

This species thrives best in freshwater between 25 and 27 degrees Celcius (77 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit), with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5, and a hardness between 8 and 12 dGH.

Tank Decorations

Dinosaur Bichirs prefer a heavily-vegetated tank with plenty of crevices and caves to hide in. Java Fern and Java Moss are great plant choices for this species. Though not as timid as some other species of Bichir, they still need dark, out-of-the-way hiding places in their tank to feel secure. Create caves using smooth rocks, large pieces of bogwood, or ceramic plastic tubing. The substrate should be something easy to clean like soft aquarium sand.

Dinosaur Bichirs are slow swimmers, but strong, easily capable of jumping out of a tank. Though they may survive outside of the water for some time, a strong, securely-fitting tank lid is an absolute necessity for keeping Bichirs safe and contained.

Dinosaur Bichir Tank Mates

bichir-tank-matesDinosaur Bichirs are carnivorous predators: choose tankmates with care. Though Bichirs are relatively slow swimmers and not particularly aggressive, they will predate any animal that can fit in their mouths and may even nip at other, larger fish, though this is usually attributed to their poor eyesight. Dinosaur Bichirs should be kept with other fish of a similar size, but avoid very aggressive species such as cichlids or snakeheads.

Some bichir tankmates are:

  • Catfish
  • Datnoids
  • Arowanas
  • Stingrays
  • Knifefish
  • Siamese Tigerfish
  • Large Barbs
  • Oscar

The Freshwater Fish Compatability Chart offers more options for possible tankmates.

Dinosaur Bichir General Behavior

Dinosaur Bichirs are generally only a semi-aggressive fish, making them great choices for a community tank of other large fish. This species spends most of its time in the bottom of the tank where they swim slowly or lie on the substrate. They are generally more active at night, so consider installing a blue “moon-light” to run for a few hours each evening.

How to Keep DInosaur Bichirs Healthy

There are no specific diseases that Dinosaur Bichirs are prone to, but this species is susceptible to typical ailments that affect freshwater fish.

Common diseases to look out for

Like most aquarium fish, Dinosaur Bichirs are susceptible to ich, a disease caused by protozoa. Symptoms of ich include rubbing their bodies on various surfaces in the tank, twitching, and the appearance of white spots on the gills and body. They usually respond well to medication and heal quickly.

Bichirs are known for obtaining cloudy eye, this usually due to poor water quality. Make sure you keep up with your water changes and it should start clearing up if you work quickly!

When treating an individual fish, best practice calls for removing the fish to a separate “hospital tank” devoid of plants or gravel for treatment. If a disease has affected an entire tank, it is probably best to treat the tank. Read and follow the instructions for any medication or treatment for best results. Take care, as some treatments can destroy beneficial bacteria or otherwise adversely affect water quality. The carbon in your filtration system may absorb some medications, rendering treatment ineffective, and may need to be removed.

Know the signs and treatments of common freshwater fish diseases to catch problems early and keep your Dinosaur Bichir happy and healthy.

Tips on keeping Dinosaur Bichirs in good health

Dinosaur Bichirs are typically easy to keep healthy as long as you monitor and maintain your water composition and quality. Perform water changes every 2 weeks and test water quality regularly to keep ammonium and nitrite levels in check, and do not overfeed as food waste will cause these levels to spike. Maintain an efficient filtration system to maintain water quality.

High-quality foods are less likely to cause organ issues and constipation than cheaper foods.

Keep in mind that parasites and bacteria can be introduced by new tankmates as well as live food, plants, and tank decorations.

Breeding Dinosaur Bichirs

Dinosaur Bichirs do not typically breed in aquariums. Most specimens you see for sale in pet stores have been acquired from the wild, where they are widespread and commonplace. Juvenile bichirs are impossible to sex but adult males are identifiable by the anal fins that are slightly thicker than those of females.

Interesting Facts About Dinosaur Bichirs

  • Bichirs have existed for 60 million years.
  • Bichirs can breathe air due to a special swim bladder.
  • Bichirs can survive outside of water for some time as long as their scales stay moist.
  • Bichirs can move about on land utilizing their dorsal fins to propel themselves.

Is a Dinosaur Bichir right for you?

Whether you are new to fish-keeping or an experienced aquarist, keeping a Dinosaur Bichir happy and healthy is relatively easy. This hardy species can withstand a variety of water conditions but do require a rather large tank. As long as Dinosaur Bichirs are kept in a suitable tank, fed a high-protein diet, and given plenty of places to hide, they can easily flourish in your home aquarium.

Last update on 2019-12-05 at 10:10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

About the author

Jordan

Hi, my name is Jordan. I've been in the fishkeeping hobby since my childhood.
Welcome to my blog where I help fishkeepers enjoy the hobby by offering free guides, advice, & product reviews.
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42 Comments

    • When it’s younger you can, but I recommend you upgrade or move it into a larger tank when it gets older (at the very least a 75 gallon), senegals can potentially grow to be 16 inches or so.

      • I have an ordanate bichir. Ive had him for 4 years going onto 5 in October. I’m concerned about a skin tag, like growth under his left fin. Is it deadly and if so can it be treated? Hes my baby and I dont want to loose him. Please respond quickly.

        • What was he last fed, how are your water parameters, what are your tank mates? Also, could you provide me a photo? Upload it using imgur.com, and send me the photo link using my contact form.

  • My polypterus just survived an accidental temperature drop in my tank all the way to 55 degrees Fahrenheit! Slowly brought water back to 70 and they still seem fine. Very hardy fish.

    • It’s always a hit or miss as each fish has different personalities. If you really want a higher success rate I’ve read that others introduce the two fish when they’re young and have them grow together.
      My recommendation would be to put them in the same tank BUT have a backup tank if it doesn’t work out.

      One more thing that’s a factor is your tank size, if you have a small tank I recommend you not stock a bichir with your flowerhorn as they are territorial fish. However, if you have the space by all means go for it.

    • I wouldn’t recommend doing so. The only fish left in that tank would be your bichir; not instantly but over time you’ll notice these fish start to disappear.

    • When they’re younger you should expect them to grow about 1/2″ to 3/4″ a month then their growth starts to slow down as they get older

  • I would really like to get a senegal bichir or two but my tank is only about 45 gallons or so and I’m worried that’s too small. I have seen minimum tank sizes from like 40 to 75.

    • That’s a fine size while they’re small. They do take a while to grow to their full size.
      I read stories of people keeping them in small tanks and stunting their growth but I don’t advise doing this.

      • Sorry, I’m not too sure what fin worms are, I wish I was able to help. I personally wouldn’t feed them to my fish.
        The only worms I have experience feeding my fish are earthworms and blood worms. I’ve seen others in the hobby feed their fish tubifex worms and blackworms.

  • dino bichir in a 60 gallon with a green terror, jack dempsey, orange sevrum and a convict cichlid sound OK?

    • Assuming your convict is full size, should be okay. As long as your convict can’t fit in its mouth.

    • Your betta fish may end up missing. I don’t recommend putting anything in the tank that can fit in the bichirs mouth.

  • How often do you recommend feeding bichir? I generally feed my fish once a day (in the evening) but I’m wondering if smaller feedings more often would reduce their desire to eat tankmates. I intend to move 2 bichir to my 80 gallon community tank but would be heartbroken if they ate my clown loaches. I think the angelfish, catfish, pleco, & shark in there will be fine.

    • It would lessen the chance, but there’s still the possibility. Maybe small feedings throughout the day then a large feeding before bed?
      If you’re positive your loaches can’t fit in your bichirs mouth I’d do the move, if not I wouldn’t chance it.

    • None, unless you bred them yourself. Feeding live from pet stores can lead to parasites being passed to your fish. The feeders are usually kept in low quality environments.

  • I was wondering what you would suggest I feed my senegal bichir. He is about 2 inches long and has been fed blood worms. Also, how often? I’ve heard once to a few times a day.

  • Can i feed my tiger bichir frozen bloodworms. Im worried if the bichir doesn’t eat the food and it might contaminate my aquarium.

    • Yes you could. If you want to keep your tank clean I’d recommend going a pellet.
      That way you can just net it out if it goes uneaten.

    • Yes you can, use your best judgement when you think it’s time to upgrade to a larger tank. You don’t want to stunt your bichir’s growth!

  • help overnight my large fish have managed to knock the baskets cover from my filter inlet pipe and my senegal bichir managed to swim part way up and get stuck. we have got him out as gently as possible and he seems to be surviving but is very quiet and stationary. what can i do to help him ??

  • Thank you so much for this Info, confirmed that what we are doing for our boys is correct, though we are planning to add more plants.