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Senegal Bichir
Photo courtesy of Aqualand pets plus

Polypterus senegalus senegalus



    An ancient fish family, they have been around since the Mesozoic era. They are a very hardy fish and can become quite tame in a home aquarium.

Quick stats:

    Listed tank sizes are the minimum
    Size: Up to 20 inches (50.5 cm)
    Tank: 48 inches
    Strata: Bottom
    PH: 6 to 7.5
    Hardness: Soft to hard
    Ttemperature: 77°F to 89°F (25 to 28°C)


    Order: Polypteriformes
    Suborder: none
    Family: Polypteridae
    Genera: Polypterus

Common name:

    Senegal Bichir Cuvier Bichir, Bichir, Sailfins

Image gallery:
    Additional species photographs


    Badmans' Forum


    Central Africa, Lake Albert, Rudolph and Chad also found in Gambia, Niger and Senegal.

General Body Form:
    Long and slender in form, they are noted for a bunch of primitive features. Their scales are hard and shiny and are different from other fish by their rhomboid shape. The Dorsal fin is really made up of a bunch of smaller fins, kind of looking like saw edged teeth. This fin also gives them one of the common names (Sailfins) that we know them by. Unlike the more modern fish the Bichirs do not have a swim bladder but have developed an air breathing organ, which acts similar to a lung and allows them to gulp at the surface for air. This organ also allows them to live in very Oxygen poor water conditions. Another interesting feature of the fish is like Amphibians (Salamanders and Newts) The young must go through a larval stage in which they have external gills. These will be absorbed as the fish matures.

    Not an overly striking fish, The base color is Silver Gray to Yellow Brown. The underside is somewhat White and the fins are a pale Yellow. What the Bichirs lack in color they make up with their personality.

    We are starting to see more and more of these fish imported and they tend to do well in aquaria. They are a bottom dweller and do most of the food foraging at night. They are Carnivorous, but this should be no problem as they will thrive on earthworms, tubifex worms and fish flesh cut into strips. In nature they would hunt for insects and other invertebrates. The tank should be large and not overly bright. You must provide plenty of hiding places either as rockwork or driftwood. Make sure if your keeping more than one that each fish has its own place to hide. You are likely not to see them much during the day but at feeding time they will come out and forage. They have a highly developed sense of smell and will know as soon as food is added to the tank. They can be territorial to each other, but if they have their own space this will be minimized. They can be kept with other medium to large sized non aggressive fish. They have a reputation as being great escape artists and can move on land for short lengths, so take proper precautions with your tank cover.
Senegal Bichir
Photo courtesy of Aqualand pets plus
    Vegetation ladden, marshy waters in Central and West Africa.

Oguta lake
Photo: A.Anene

Lake Oguta, Imo State, Nigeria. The Senegal Bichir is a native species of this lake. For more info on this lake and Biotope please visit the World Lake Database


    Although many Bichirs have been raised to sexual maturity, little is known on the breeding. It is said that the males Anal fin is wider than the females. Males initiate spawning, the female laying a few hundred eggs near his hand-like anal fin. Young hatch out in about four days. A water change with slightly cooler water can stimulate the spawning. Remove any eggs to a rearing tank and feed with baby brine shrimp moving on to the larger food as they grow. The young have external gills.

Your comments:


Please remember that the following comments are personal experiences and may or may not apply to your setup. Use them as guide to help better understand your fish, like us all individuals will behave differently under different circumstances.


From: Rich
I got mine from a pet store. The guy there told me that as long as I feed them 3x a day that they could be in my tank with mollies, guppies and tetras, and sold me 2 what I thought to be both males. Well it didn't take them very long to prove the pet store guy wrong. I got them they were just about 2 inches long and at first they just went looking for a spot to hide where they stayed for about an hour before they started moving around the tank exploring. I thought wow they are getting along nicely great. That night they killed all but 1 of 10 mollies that were the same size as them well the were that morning the next day they were so fat I thought that they were going to die from over stuffing themselves. Now I have had these 2 for about 6 months now one of them seemed to stop growing around 5 inches long and the other is close to 9 inches and about as thick as a half dollar. The small one started getting a bump in its stomach about a month and a half ago, so I take a video thinking that it has something wrong with it maybe it has a tumor or swallowed a rock or that my little boy is sick. I took the video to the pet store near my house (not the same place I got it) and I find out my little boy is a girl and expecting... So far I have done water changes 2x a week heated the tank up lowered the temp added more plants I have tried many things to help her drop the eggs bus she is holding them still I have tried finding out the time she starts to show to when she drops but no one seems to know. When she does drop them I will note it here. But one last thing about their appetite I will go pick up feeder fish for the tank I will pick up 40 guppies at a time and put them all in and they are gone the next day. They don't wait till dark to start thinning out the ranks, my little girl will stare into the bag the minute it goes into the tank like she is picking the order the will disappear in. The male is funny I have seen him push her to the bottom of the tank by laying on top of her then hold her down by staying on top of her, so he can eat without her taking them from his mouth.
From: Fiona Tanzer
Still enjoying my bichirs (see previous comment) - but what I initially thought to be one male and 2 females turned out to be 2 males and one female: A juvenile male's anal fin resembles that of the female. They all get along fine, but I note that the female is the greediest and the males defer to her eating her fill first (trying to impress her?). My bichirs greatly enjoy live earthworms from my worm farm. I collect worms in the morning, wash them and leave them in a plastic box covered with moist tissue paper. By evening, the worms have excreted most of their gunk. On adding the live worms into the tank, they rapidly bury themselves in the tank gravel and the bichirs hunt them out by smell, slowly digging their snouts into the gravel and waiting patiently for a while until they suddenly jerk the worm out and promptly eat it - fascinating to watch!
From: Jaron
I have a group of three 10 inch Senegal Bichirs. They are with an 16 inch Ornate Bichir and a 24 inch Rope fish. They are a great group that does not fight at all. Beware they will eat anything they can tear apart or fit in their mouths. Mine ate a 10 inch knife fish, 8 inch Barracuda, and an Elephant nose. Remysis shrimp is the food of choice when not feeding live food. Large hiding spots are essential as Bichirs hunt at night and hide during the day min 100 gallon aquarium
From: Chris
I have a Senegal Bichir in a 55gal with 5 Tiger Barbs, a male Kribensis and 2 Cory's. He never gets aggressive unless it is feeding time. I make my own food using fish and veggies and he loves it. He knows as soon as the food touches the water and if the barbs don't get enough to eat before it sinks theater have to wait for him to have his fill or he will snap at them. Out of all the fish I have owned these and putters seem to exude personality. I have the tank by the front door and when I come home he swims over. When anyone is looking in the tank he swims right up to where they are and looks at who is looking at him lol. Word of caution though,,,, they will not get along with all fish. Slow/injured/small fish will be seen as lunch so when picking out tankmates keep this in mind. I had another one before this that would make my 1 inch zebras food while the lights were out and they were sleeping.
From: Andrew Baldwin
I've had my bicher(spike) since march of '09. He is about 9" long. currently he is in a community tank with a half a dozen African cichlids (well suited to Victorian breeds) and a clown-knife fish. It's a 150 tank so over crowding is not a issue. Spike is very friendly. If you feed them by hand the first few weeks you have them they tend to act like a puppy. They will recognize you an respond to your touch even as much as to let you hold them, underwater of course. They love power heads and will play in the bubbles. Spike has been raised on blood worms fresh pealed shrimp and live minnows or feeder gold fish. He is currently going through a growth spurt and has shown no signs of ill health. They are a very hearty eel and would recommend anybody with the tank space(no smaller than a 55 gal.) to invest in one.
From: Fiona Tanzer
My bichirs are very fond of live garden snails (we don't use pesticides. We have 2 snail species and they like both (I feed snails with shells up to 3 cm diameter). The bichir will grab the snail's body (even if retracted into the shell) and twist it cleanly out of the shell and swallow it, all in one smooth motion. I also agree that as long as there is plenty of cover, the bichirs are not aggressive towards one another. I have 3 adults (1 male, 2 females)in one well-planted long shallow tank all to themselves - they enjoy balancing delicately on the leaves.
From: Sam
These fish are awesome. I keep a albino sengalus with a retropinnis bichir with no problems. Even though the retropinnis is substantial larger(6 inches) and the sengalus is 2 inches long and they never pick on each other. I keep them in a 20 long tank but plan on moving them to a 95 aquarium with 2 pitcus cats and 3 abramites. These guys eat anything. They will eat ghost shrimp( their favorite food) frozen blood worms, earthworms, even green beans( only the sengalus) and cichlid pellets. These are not very aggressive fish and are great mixers with each other. They aren't picky a bout water either I keep them in a p.h. of 8.5. I recommend them to anyone willing to get at least a 50 gallon tank.
From: Lance R.
This fish is one of my favorite and I have a little insight into their favorite foods. They love any sort of krill, be it frozen or freeze dried, nightcrawlers, and clams on the half shell. This last one is odd and I figured I would try it, and it worked. The muscular attachment to the shell gives the fish something to fight with and provides natural hunting stimulus. As far as dry foods are concerned, they love shrimp pellets and Hikari's Massivore Delite. Massivore delite is a wafer designed towards large predators, and it has a great tendency of not breaking up and clouding the water. Sometimes the fish may not be big enough to eat the wafer hole so it also can be broken in half and it doesn't corrode any quicker. And for live foods the old standby of ghost shrimp and guppies works. My pet's name is Bocephus and He is as healthy as a horse.
From: Daniel
I have owned my Bichir for about 2 and a half years now, and he is my favorite fish in the tank. I bought him when he was about 2 1/2 to 3 inches and now he is about 13 to 14 inches in length. When I bought him at the fish store they told me he would die in about 3 months because it is a hard fish to keep. Now, every time I go into the fish store, they ask me how he is doing. It is so funny to see the small ones in the store and then go home and see mine. I wouldn't recommend keeping them in a small tank as they will grow quite large! I had him in a 46 gallon with 4 bala sharks, a plecostomus and a kissing gouiami. I just recently moved and took this opportunity to move them all to a new home. It is a 120 gallon tank. I think that off all the fish, he was the most excited about it. He is loving the new space. I am actually thinking about buying another one and raising it and introducing it to the tank in about 6 months when it is bigger. All in all, one of the best fish I own.
From: James
I first purchased this little guy at Pet Smart when he was about 1 and ½ inches. The store staff told me he is semi aggressive. I think they were just being overly conservative. I put him in my 20 gal tank with 12 other fishes. At first he was hiding, timid, shy and never aggressively fights for food. I though he may not get enough to eat. I feed them beef heart on a weekly base he really love the stuff. After 2 months, thanks for beef heart, he grows to 4 inches long and much fatter (a fish version of couch potato). His personality became to change much more active and stopping be a timid and shy boy. Swimming around the tank and make numerals attempts to jump out my covered tank. But on the surface he looks peaceful to other fishes He never seems irritated even when my Pictus cat fish and Feather Fin wrecking their tails over his head. But one day I found my 1 inches Mickey Mouse platy is missing and I notice Senegal Bichir ‘s stomach is like he is pregnant and I immediately know who is the guilty one. Senegal Bichir does not have a nasty personality he just think any fish of equal or bigger size are pals but if you are smaller or slow swimming he view you as food. I will move this gang of 14 to a 80 gal tank next week and see if this Senegal Bichir will grow to 20 inches or not…..haha Over all I love this guy such a character.
From: Dan
I've had one for about a year. He's referred to affectionately around our home as "The Serpent". He is way cooler than any of the other fishes I've ever had. I finally had to move him out of my community tank as he thought that everybody else made a lovely buffet. I put him in with a lone Jack Dempsey thinking they would balance each other out, as far as their aggression to anybody else. Wrong! Within two minutes the JD had bitten his head nearly removing his eye. a couple of days later his tail was gone! I gave the JD to my local pet store fish buddy and proceeded to purchase a Reedfish. Strangely enough, the first thing he did (Bichir) was slither over and bit poor little reedfish in the head, hah! But that's about it as far as aggression between them goes. Anyway, he is totally cool. I've gotten away from live food and he literally jams on Floating cichlid pellets now. Another thing, he seems to be able to tolerate even the most harsh ammonia laden water while other species are dying all around him. He is one tough hombre for sure!! Our cats like him too. His tank is situated on a wooden box only about a foot off the floor making for a completely bewildering interest for the kitties. He seems to know that they aren't able to get to him so he just swims back and forth in front of them while they paw and scratch at the glass. I'm sure he has a *#$@ eating grin while he does it too!! He's quite a character.
From: Michael Sim
A pretty fish with Primitive features indeed! In Singapore, they are also known as the 9 section Dragon, probably of their Dorsal fins. If you observe close enough, you will see 9 individual pieces (sections). I experimented by mixing 3 Ornates (beautiful texture of dark and yellow, 1 being 7" and other 2 are 5") with a school of 3" Clown Loaches and a 9" Red Tail Gold Arowana. They have been living happily and harmoniously in a 4ft by 2ft by 2ft Aquarium. I believe this combination is perfect as the Arowana occupies the upper tank, while the Ornates combs the sandbed and the Loaches just swims beautifully everywhere in a school. They have marked their resting places and seems to behave very well so far. I also believe the introduction of Black Water in my aquarium helps to calm them further as they have a very close-to-nature water conditions. No further Aeration is needed as the Tank is powered by 2 Bio filter from Eheim; reliable & effective. The return lines (attached to spray tubes)is sufficient to encourage water movement and introduce air into the water via the surface. The aeration is only turn on from time to time to help kick up sediments on the sandbed and purely to assist in the filtration process. Do not overfeed and encourage overgrowth as the Ornates might turn hungry more quickly and thus turn aggressive. I expect intimidation to take place when they get larger, perhaps 12" or so. Their diet can further tame them to be "less Carnivorous". Do not feed them with small fishes or little frogs. Instead, a diet comprising of small mealworms (high protein), freeze-dried red shrimps (enhance colour) and a once-in-a-blue-moon live tubifex worms will be sufficient. Share with you guys in the near future on the progress of my pride keeping. Enjoy your ancient "Dragons"...
From: Brian
The first time I saw this fish,my friend had one. I was so fascinated with the look of it and the way it moved through the water with 2 small fins. I just had to get one. I bought one and put it in a 55 gallon tank. He was about 3" in 6 months he was 7" and I started him with one 2.5" yellow lab cichlid and one 2.5" iridescent shark,2.5" red-tailed blk shark,2"albino rainbow shark. He got along great with all my fish I liked him so much I bought another one that was 4" and they never fought with each other .He loves guppy's,roseys,baby bass,brine shrimp,blood worms,beef heart. Caution beef heart will make him grow 2 times faster than normal if fed everyday. He just loves it. If available you will love the look of the albino it's a little pricey at $60.00 but well worth it there eyes look like rubys and there body is a very light peach color. Make sure you have a big net for it or bag it under water because they squirm alot in a net and can fall out. It may get hurt if it falls on the floor not sure I had mine with a new kind of shark paroon and it killed a 4" one beat it to death so I think it killed mine. I was lucky to find anther one for $50.00.but all in all a wonderful fish. I think anyone should have one.
From: Russ
Hello All. These fish are great. I have two 55 gallon tanks, one is home to a single ornate bichir, and three Senegal's live in the other. They have voracious appetites and never hesitate to eat anything that can fit in their mouths, whether wholly or partially. Cover your sump as well or they'll hide in there! The 3 Senegal's get on well with each other, and occasionally play - they chase each other but don't nip. Have noticed that the ornate still has gills protruding from the back of the skull yet the same sized Senegal's have lost theirs. Curious. Final thought, add feeder fish just before lights out (bichirs are nocturnal), turn off tank lights and watch this graceful predator in action. There seems to be different ways of pronouncing their names, here in Thailand, the pronunciation is "bi-cheer" which is pretty close to the original North African French-Arabic name.
From: Pablo R.
I love these fish!! I walked into my local aquarium shop about a year ago and saw the Bichir swimming about in one of the tanks. I was instantly drawn to them. These fish are definitely predatory and don't let anyone tell you different. If you're like me and want more of a "natural" tank with predators and their prey, this is the fish to get. They are very non-aggressive and tend to "hunt" only at night. They'll eat any food I give them during the day but will only hunt the feeder fish (or other live things) at night. I've also fed them all kinds of raw fish and shrimp purchased at the market. Their mouths are very flexible and can devour large pieces of food much akin to the way a snake can eat. I have 4 Bichir in a 60 gallon tank. My tank is outfitted with lots of plants and rocks. None of the Bichir are aggressive towards each other and mostly keep each other company. They often spend time resting in the little caves or underneath plants. Sometimes they lay on top of each other. I am sure the size of my tank offers them "private" space when they require it and as a result, I have never seen any kind of aggression from these fish. They are purely predatory and in that sense are aggressive but they aren't territorial. Of course, I base all of this on my own experience with these fish. This fish is very easy to maintain and feed. Don't put them in your tank if you've got small fish! That's my only warning.







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