The Bichir is a captivating and distinct freshwater fish that brings an ancient, prehistoric touch to your aquarium. This fascinating species, with numerous types to choose from, can make a fantastic addition to any fish enthusiast’s tank. However, to keep a Bichir happy and healthy, you’ll need to understand their unique care requirements, including tank size, diet, tank mates, and more. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about Bichir care, ensuring your ancient-looking fish thrives in its aquatic home.
1. Species Summary
Bichirs (Polypterus bichir) are tropical freshwater fish that have existed for millions of years. They belong to the Polypteridae family and are primarily found in Northeast Africa throughout the Nile River and its associated tributaries. Bichirs prefer shallow, swampy waters and can even thrive in semi-brackish environments. Their build makes them well-suited for this kind of habitat, which is partly why they have remained unchanged for such a long period.
1.1 Physical Characteristics
Bichirs possess a variety of intriguing physical characteristics that make them stand out among other freshwater fish. They have a striking resemblance to a cross between a snake and an eel, with a series of spiny dorsal fins running along their backs. Their bodies are covered in scales, adding to their overall reptilian appearance.
These fish also have a unique pair of lungs, enabling them to access the surface for oxygen. This feature is particularly beneficial in their natural habitat, where swampy and murky waters make breathing a challenge. Bichir lungs differ from those of other fish, such as dwarf gourami, as they are more of a sac rather than a mass of tissue.
Due to the low visibility in their natural habitat, Bichirs have poor eyesight. Instead, they rely on their excellent sense of smell and ability to sense electricity in the water. They have ampullae of Lorenzini, small organs that can detect the electricity emitted by other animals in the water – a highly useful adaptation for navigation and locating food.
2. Types of Bichirs
There are several popular types of Bichirs found in aquariums worldwide, each with different colors and sizes. Some of the most common include:
2.1 Dinosaur Bichir
Also known as the Senegal Bichir, this type is one of the most popular choices for aquariums. They are mostly grey and typically smaller than other Bichir species. Occasionally, they may exhibit lighter grey, pink, or blue coloration.
2.2 Albino Bichir
The Albino Bichir is essentially a Dinosaur Bichir with white coloration and red eyes. Apart from the color difference, all other characteristics remain the same. This type is highly sought after among Bichir enthusiasts.
2.3 Ornate Bichir
The Ornate Bichir is a large and visually striking fish. They can grow up to two feet in length and display a yellow base color on their bodies, with black flecks scattered throughout. These black flecks become more concentrated on their spiny dorsal fins.
2.4 Saddled Bichir
The Saddled Bichir (Polypterus endlicheri) is the largest type of Bichir, reaching up to two and a half feet in length. They have a light yellow body with black/dark grey stripes covering their bodies. One notable feature of the Saddled Bichir is their protruding lower jaw, which is not as prominent in other species.
2.5 Delhezi Bichir
The Delhezi Bichir shares the typical shape and size of other Bichirs, but its unique color patterns set it apart. They are primarily grey with flecks of yellow and green, accompanied by short black stripes.
3. Bichir Size
The average Bichir size ranges from 1-2.5 feet in length, with variations depending primarily on the specific type. Other factors, such as care and genetics, can also influence their size.
4. Bichir Care
Bichir care is not overly complicated, but there are essential factors to consider. These hardy fish can tolerate a range of water parameters, but maintaining a suitable environment is crucial for their well-being. Additionally, their behavior and dietary requirements demand extra attention. Here’s what you need to know to ensure your Bichir thrives.
Related: Best Fish Tank
4.1 Tank Size
The minimum recommended tank size for a single Bichir is around 90 gallons. Their size and activity level necessitate ample space for swimming and comfort. While some owners have kept Bichirs in tanks as small as 40 gallons, it’s always better to provide an optimal habitat for their health and happiness.
4.2 Water Parameters
Bichirs are hardy fish that can survive in a wide range of water parameters. Nevertheless, you should aim for the following recommended parameters to ensure their optimal health:
- Water temperature: 74°F to 82°F
- pH levels: 6.2 to 7.8
- Water hardness: Soft
- KH: 5-20 dKH
Regular water changes and monitoring the levels in your aquarium with a test kit are crucial to maintaining a healthy environment for your Bichir.
4.3 Tank Decorations
Bichirs are adaptable to various habitat decorations, such as plants, driftwood, and caves. You can also keep them in a sparser tank, as they are not picky about their surroundings. However, it’s essential to select the right substrate for your Bichir. A sandy substrate is highly recommended, as it is both comfortable and safe for these bottom-feeders. Gravel substrate can be too rough on their bellies and may even be accidentally ingested when scavenging for food.
4.4 Common Diseases
While there are no Bichir-specific diseases, it’s essential to watch out for common fish ailments like Ich. Maintaining excellent water quality and tank conditions can significantly reduce the risk of your Bichir falling ill. Prevention is always more manageable and reliable than treating diseases or infections later on. Consistent water changes and monitoring your fish for abnormal behavior are critical for maintaining their health.
5. Food & Diet
As carnivorous fish, Bichirs require a protein-rich diet to stay healthy. They are also nocturnal feeders, meaning their feeding habits differ from many popular freshwater fish. Adjusting their feeding schedule to nighttime or early morning before turning off the lights is recommended.
Bichir care can be more challenging when it comes to their diet. You should provide a mix of live, dried, and frozen protein-rich foods, rather than relying solely on pellets or flake food. Some suitable food options include:
- Weather loaches
- Ox heart
Pellets can still be used to supplement their diet but should not be the primary source of nutrition.
6. Behavior & Temperament
Understanding Bichir temperament is vital for their care. While they are not extremely aggressive, they do exhibit aggressive tendencies that require attention. As carnivorous fish, they may view fish their size or smaller as potential prey, leading to problems with other fish in their tank.
Apart from their temperament, Bichirs are generally active fish. They are bottom-dwellers but frequently visit the surface for oxygen, making them an engaging addition to your tank. Most of their activity occurs at night, particularly during feeding time.
7. Bichir Tank Mates
Choosing compatible Bichir tank mates requires careful consideration of size and potential aggression. Fish their size or smaller are not recommended, as they may be targeted or even eaten. Larger fish make better tank mates, as they won’t be confused with food and are less likely to be bullied. Some suitable tank mates include:
- [list of tank mates]
Ensuring that enough food reaches the bottom of the tank is also essential to prevent underfeeding and increased aggression in your Bichir.
Multiple Bichirs can coexist in the same tank, as long as you increase the tank size to accommodate additional fish. They generally get along well with each other.
Breeding Bichirs in home aquariums is not well-documented, and limited information is available on the subject. Each Bichir type requires slightly different tank and water conditions for breeding, which are not well-understood. As a result, experimentation may be necessary for successful breeding.
The Senegal Bichir has the most available information on breeding. Cooler water, soft but slightly acidic conditions, and increased protein intake are recommended for breeding this type. Males will pursue females, gently headbutting them during courtship, which can last a day or two. If successful, the female will deposit her eggs in a suitable location (typically bushy plants). After fertilization, remove the parents from the tank and begin feeding the fry appropriate food, such as brine shrimp and microworms, to promote growth.
The average Bichir lifespan ranges from 10-15 years in captivity. However, with exceptional care and good genetics, they can live up to 20 years. The conditions in which they live can significantly impact their lifespan, so attentive care is essential for ensuring a long, healthy life for your Bichir.
Owning a Bichir is a rewarding and fascinating experience. These prehistoric fish are truly captivating, and their unique appearance and behavior make them an excellent addition to any aquarium. Bichir care is relatively straightforward, as long as you provide the proper habitat, monitor water quality, and select appropriate tank mates.
If you’re a Bichir owner with insights or tips to share, we’d love to hear from you. Help us enhance this guide and provide the best possible information for fellow Bichir enthusiasts.