Bichir: Care, Size, Lifespan, Diet & More

The Bichir (Polypterus bichir) is one of the most unique and interesting-looking fish in the world. These fish are famous for their dinosaur looks that no other aquarium fish have a similar look. In the wild, they can be found in a variety of habitats including rivers, lakes, and swamps. Bichir fish are great pet fish when the right tank environment is provided. 

In this article, you will learn the correct Bichir care guidelines and all the other information you might need.

Species Profile & Overview

Bichirs are tropical freshwater fish that is native to Africa. They typically inhabit slow-moving or stagnant waters throughout Northeast Africa, including the Nile River.

There are many different types of bichir fish, but they all have a few things in common. They have long, eel-like bodies and a row of fin rays running along their backs. They are also predators and use their sharp teeth to capture prey.

These air-breathing fish evolved to be able to survive in the harsh conditions of Africa. This means they are fully evolved to live in dark and murky waters and are able to breathe directly from the air. 

Throughout the dry season, the oxygen levels will become super low, and not many species can survive. So the Bichir fish had to evolve to breathe from the air. They also have a strong sense of smell that helps them find food in murky waters. 

Bichirs can also sense the electric field around moving objects. This is their main way of hunting in the wild as they lack a strong sight. 

Bichir fish are a great addition to any large predatory aquarium. They are well equipped with defensive mechanisms to be able to live with the big boys. However, Because they have a lung, they will need to have access to the surface of the water at all times.


Bichir Fish
Bichir Fish

Bichir is often prized for its unique dinosaur-looking appearance. They have a long, eel-like body shape that is equipped with spear-looking fins on their back. This gives them their famous dinosaur look. 

Their body is covered in small, sharp scales which offer protection from predators but are placed in a fashion that helps the Bichir to move quickly through the water. They also have a wide tail fin which helps them to swim powerfully through the water.

These fish are usually brownish-yellow or green in color, with some specimens having patterns of spots or stripes. The upper body is usually where the patterns and colorations present. The base of the body is often white or yellowish and usually lacks patterns.

The fins of a Bichir are short and sturdy. However, they are actually quite tough and are used to help the Bichir move and maneuver quickly through the water. The fins have rays that are made of spiny material and are tough when touched.

Their large pectoral fins are adapted to help the fish crawl on the surface of the substrate. This fish spends most of its time at the bottom of the rivers and on the substrate. So they evolved to use their pectoral fins to walk (crawl) with ease.

Bichir fish is one of the most unique pet fish available in the hobby. They are beautiful and ancient species that look like a dinosaur in a tank. They are great predatory fish that have unique personalities. They are also relatively easy to care for, making them a good choice for beginner fishkeepers.

Adult Size

Bichir fish can grow to about 12 – 24 inches in captivity. Different types of bichir will grow to different lengths and can grow at different rates. However, they are all large fish and can quickly outgrow smaller tanks. 

Their large size will make it easy to find them in any size aquarium. However, it’s best to give these fish the largest tank you can set up. They mainly stay at the bottom of the tank and need a large space to be able to feel comfortable.


Bichir fish typically have a lifespan of 10 – 15 years in captivity. However, their lifespan can be affected by poor diet and low water quality. Poor diet and low water quality can lead to health problems that shorten their lifespan.

Regular tank maintenance is essential to the health and well-being of these predatory fish. Even though they breathe air, the water will still need to be super clean and toxin-free. Low water quality can lead to disease and infections that will lower the lifespan of your pet bichir. 

Behavior & Temperament

Bichir fish are nocturnal species and will hunt for food at night. Their strong sense of smell and their tiny whiskers will help them locate prey and hunt in the dark. 

These fish are predatory species and will eat any small fish that can fit in their mouth. This means you will have to pick their tank mates carefully to prevent any losses. More on this in the Tank Mates section of this guide.

That being said, they are not mean or aggressive fish. They are usually calm and peaceful fish when kept with larger predatory fish. Bichirs look at smaller fish as food and hunt to survive. 

These fish are superactive species and will constantly swim to the surface for some air. They are also eating machines! They will eat non-stop and a lot which can cause pollution in the tank. 

They might get aggressive when they are hungry and it’s feeding time. But they are often gentle giants and will not disturb other fish. To prevent any aggression you should keep them well-fed and provide them with a larger tank and tank mates.

Bichir Care

Bichir fish are super hardy fish that can tolerate most tank conditions. This makes them fish that almost any fishkeeper can own and care for. However, keeping this fish can also get tricky when you want to add other fish to their tank. 

They are also not picky eaters and will eat most kinds of carnivore fish food. But they can produce a lot of waste which means your tank should have strong filtration and enough water volume to be able to handle the waste. 

In the next few sections, we gathered the most important aspects of caring for these prehistoric fish. Combining this information with the rest of this guide can give your bichir a better living environment. 

Tank Size

A Bichir fish needs a minimum tank size of at least 90 gallons. Larger species of bichir will need larger tanks to be able to freely swim and explore their living space. 

We however recommend getting a minimum of 120 gallons aquarium if you want to keep these species. This size of the tank will let you have a piece of mind knowing your tank can handle the waste and is easy to do water changes. 

Make sure not to overcrowd the tank as you might need to perform more water changes. If you want to add more fish and have a community of predator species, then we recommend tanks up to 360 gallons. 

What To Put In A Bichir Tank

When decorating an aquarium for bichir fish, it is important to create an aquascape that suits their needs. This means providing plenty of hiding places and open areas for swimming with a softer substrate. Driftwood, rocks, and live plants can be used to create a natural-looking living space for these gentle giants.

Since Bichir fish are coming from Africa, it’s best to recreate a similar environment in their tanks. In the wild, they prefer water that is warm, murky, and slow-moving. Expert murky water, the rest are super easy to recreate. 

To replicate these conditions in an aquarium, you will need to use a heater to keep the water warm. Having murky water is not an option in a home aquarium but you can easily add decorations and plants to make shaded areas for these fish. 

Rocks and driftwood can also make an aquarium look more beautiful to human viewers. But for the fish, they can provide shade and a place to hide when feeling stressed. These decorations can provide a place for beneficial bacteria to grow which is another plus point.

Bichir are bottom-dwelling species, which means they like to stay close to the substrate. Because of this, it is important to use a substrate that will not hurt their delicate fins or make it difficult for them to move around. A good substrate option for a Bichir aquarium is sand or fine gravel.

Keeping plants with Bichir can be tricky depending on the variant of Bichir fish you own. At younger ages, you can place almost any plant with bichir fish. But as they grow they will start to move things around when moving in the tank. This means they can disturb plants if you have fragile or sensitive plants.

The best plants for a Bichir tank are plants that grow large and are hardy. The tank configuration can also help you to secure plants tightly so they don’t get uprooted. We recommend keeping large variants of Anubias, Buce Plants, Cryptocoryne, and Java fern

You can also use floating types of plants if your aquarium has less surface agitation. Surface Floating plants are the best option for any size Bichir. Just make sure plants don’t cover the entire surface as these fish need to have access to air.

There are many benefits to having live plants in your bichir. Live plants will make your tank more balanced and healthy by filtering out the waste produced by bichir. They can also help with oxygenating the water during the day. 

Bichir Fish
Bichir Fish

Light Requirements

Bichir fish have very weak eyesight so they are not very picky when it comes to lighting conditions. A good light, however, is necessary for your aquarium to let the plants grow and make the fish look more beautiful.

When it comes to choosing the right type of light for your aquarium, you should keep a few things in mind. The light should be full spectrum LED light to make your tank look beautiful. However, the tank should have some shaded areas or the fish to be able to hide.

Water Parameters & Conditions

These fish are very adaptable and hardy when it comes to the range of parameters they can live in. This makes them a good choice of fish for someone who wants an easy-to-care-for aquarium pet.

Bichirs originate from Africa, the water conditions will change drastically throughout the year. This forced these prehistoric fish to adapt to a wide range of water parameters. In the wild, Bichirs typically inhabit slow-moving waters, such as swamps and floodplains. This means you’ll have to recreate a similar slow-moving water flow in your aquarium. 

When it comes to the water parameters, these fish are very easygoing. However, to give your Bichir the best living environment make sure your tank parameters fall within the following range:

  • Temperature: 72 – 82 Degrees Fahrenheit 
  • pH: 6.0 – 8.0 
  • TDS: 100 – 250 PPM

Filtration System

Filtration is an important part of keeping a Bichir tank clean and the fish healthy. These fish are known to produce a large amount of waste. Considering the fact that they are carnivore species, the waste produced by these fish can easily pollute a tank. 

This means you should invest in a strong filtration system to be able to handle the bioload in the tank. There are many different types of filters available on the market. However, we recommend having one or more constant filters to filter the aquarium. 

Canister filters are reliable and provide mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration all in one place. They are also easy to clean when the need comes.

Common Diseases and Prevention

Bichir fish are hardy but they can suffer from aquarium diseases. Unlike most aquarium fish, bichir is hardy and can tolerate a wide range of water parameters. This means they are less susceptible to parameter shock-related diseases. 

That being said, these fish are susceptible to a number of diseases, including bacterial, and fungal infections, parasites, and viral diseases. Bacterial infections are typically treated with antibiotics, while fungal infections may require antifungal medications. 

Parasites can be difficult to eradicate and may require a combination of treatments, such as antiparasitic medications, good tank maintenance, and quarantining of infected fish. 

One of the best ways to prevent diseases in an aquarium is to maintain a clean and healthy environment. This means regular water changes, vacuuming the gravel, and wiping down the glass. It is also important to feed high-quality food and to remove any uneaten food from the tank.

Diet and Feeding Requirements

Bichirs are carnivore predatory fish that hunt smaller fish, small amphibians, and insects. They use their sense of smell to find food in the murky waters where they live. Bichirs are also known to eat their own kind if one is too small.

In captivity, most bichirs will do well on a diet of live or frozen fish, shrimp, earthworms, and carnivore pellets. It is important to offer them a variety of food items to ensure your bichir gets all the nutrients it needs.

Bichirs prefer meaty foods more than dry pellets. You can feed them chops of raw tilapia, muscles, shrimps, and even Beefheart. You can also feed them bloodworms and other frozen foods available in pet stores. But that can easily become expensive as these fish need a lot of food to eat. 

Keep in mind that these fish are nocturnal and prefer to eat when it’s dark. Feeding them at night will also help them to eat without competing with other fish in the tank. Make sure to only feed them what they can eat in a short period. 

Never overfeed or leave any uneaten food in the tank. Overfeeding and leftover foods can break the nitrogen cycle in a tank and also cause different diseases. When bichir is overfed, it will produce much more waste than other fish.

Tank Mates

Bichir fish are generally peaceful towards similar-sized tank mates. But they look at any small fish as a source of food. But more importantly, you should not house super aggressive fish with your bichir fish. 

Bichirs are gentle giants and other aggressive fish can bully them. Although most fish will live peacefully with bichirs when their tank is large enough. All the fish also have to be adults and of full or similar size. 

Avoid keeping Bichir fish with fast-swimming fish or the ones that eat competitively. These fish can outcompete bichirs when it’s feeding time. Fast movements can also cause stress in bichirs. 

Bichir Fish
Bichir Fish


Bichir fish are a great addition to any large and predatory aquarium. They are unique-looking fish that are commonly known as Dinosaur fish. This is because of their prehistoric looks. They have a primitive lung-like organ that allows them to breathe air making them super hardy species. Bichir fish are also known for their ability to walk on the substrate which is super fun to watch. If you have a large tank we definitely recommend this fish.