Dinosaur Bichir (Polypterus Senegalus): Ultimate Care Guide


One of the most fascinating creatures of the water is the dinosaur bichir (polypterus senegalus) fish.  This is a freshwater fish that has its origins dating back to prehistoric times, hence the name.  Its scientific name come from the species of the polypterus genus and part of the lobe-finned pike family.  This cute fish goes by a few different names such as “dinosaur eel,” “dragon fin,” “swamp dragon,” “reed fish,” or “dragon fish” depending on which pet shop you find them in.

We can generally find the dinosaur bichir in the wild, swampy areas, lakes, rivers, and floodplains.  Since it is a freshwater fish, it will obviously not be found in the ocean.  The dinosaur bichir is found native to African countries such as Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, and other African countries that range from the Nile River basin into West Africa.  The bichir species is endemic to the area and often caught from the river and streams of Africa.  It has also been found in certain parts of India as well.  They usually swim around in heavily vegetated, slow-moving waterways in Africa and India.  One of the most interesting aspects of the dinosaur bichir is that they have existed for over 60 million years.

Appearance

The dinosaur bichir is mostly a brown, grey, or beige color with a long body.  The dinosaur bichir are covered in thick scales that serve as armor to protect it from injury.  They are long and look almost like an eel, which is why some will refer to it as a “dinosaur eel,” however unlike an eel, the dinosaur bichir has thick scales.  The scales attribute to the fish’s name as they look like dragon scales that appear along the top-side of the fish.  These scales can be blue, pink, or white. 

Furthermore, the dinosaur bichir have long, protruding nostrils that they use to pick up the scent of their prey.  These fish are carnivorous and use these nostrils to hunt by smell.  Oddly enough, the bichir have a modified bladder that act as a lung.  With this lung, the fish can survive extended amounts of time outside of the water, assuming that they do not dry up.  This can be quite troublesome for those wanting to keep them in a tank as the owner must be sure that any openings are shut tight, otherwise, the dinosaur bichir might try an escape.

The dinosaur bichir have very pronounced teeth and when their mouth is closed, it looks like they are smiling.  Its eyes are pale yellow with a black pupil that are located on each side of the head.  With a large pectoral fin on their back, the dinosaur bichir resembles a snake structure.  These pectoral fins are the main push for their slow, wavy movement. 

Dinosaur Bichir (Polypterus Senegalus)
Dinosaur Bichir (Polypterus Senegalus)

Dinosaur Bichir Care

In order to properly care for these types of fish, it is important to consider the size of the fish.  If kept in captivity, the dinosaur bichir can reach a maximum size of about 18 inches (46 centimeters), assuming that the tank is well maintained.  However, in the wild, they can exceed 28 inches (70 centimeters) in length.  If you are buying these fish from a pet store, they will grow relatively slow, as it takes them several years to grow to their maximum size.  These fish will generally grow between two or three centimeters each month, so make sure that the tank can contain a fully adult dinosaur bichir. 

Since the dinosaur bichir reaches a fairly large size, it is recommended that the aquarium tank is no less than 20 gallons, but really needs to be in tanks holding 90-100 gallons of water.  Honestly, the bigger the tank, the better.  They tend to thrive in tanks that resemble their own natural habitats.  The dinosaur bichir prefer more open floor space in their tanks, as they tend to dwell at the bottom of the water, so it is recommended that the tanks are at least four feet deep.  These swamp dragons can handle a wide variety of water conditions, but need to be in water temperatures between 25-29 degrees Celsius (77-84 degrees Fahrenheit).  The best water pH for these creatures is between 6.5 and 7.5. 

In terms of decorations, fill your tank with plenty of smooth rocks, bogwood, and plants for the dinosaur bichir to roam around in.  It is also advised to have some aquarium sand and pebbles as the fish like to use these as good hiding places. A hexagonal tank will also work for these kinds of fish as they can thrive in oxygen-deprived waters.

Food & Diet

In terms of feeding the dinosaur bichir, it should be recognized that this fish is a carnivorous one.  Due to its poor eyesight, it relies mainly on its scent to find its food.  In an aquarium setting, these fish are not picky eaters.  They subsist on shrimp, mussels, prawns, krill, whitebait, tetra blood worms, and many other varieties of live food.  They will also eat frozen food items like Mysis shrimp, tubifex, and on regular flakes and pellets.  The pellets and flakes will sink to the bottom of the tank and are readily eaten by the dinosaur bichir. 

Since the fish is a carnivore, you must take care in feeding it since it is a predatory fish.  In the wild, they are used to hunting and will eat snails, bugs, and worms.  Rarely will the dinosaur bichir accept dead food.  Therefore, it is important to feed them once every two days with small pieces of meat for adults.  Juveniles can be fed twice as often in order to ensure their growth.

Dinosaur Bichir Lifespan

The dinosaur bichir also live for about 15-20 years, as long as the care and conditions are maintained.  Therefore, it is important to make sure that the tank is well prepared and filled with enough rocks, plants, and dark places for them to hide.  Also, tanks should have low lighting and a good filtration system.  Overall, the dinosaur bichir do not require a lot of attention, but they can produce a lot of waste, so it might be in your best interest to get an extra heavy duty tank that will prevent escapes and a solid filtration system.  This will ensure that your dinosaur bichir will have a long and healthy life.

Dinosaur Bichir Breeding

If you are looking to breed the dinosaur bichir, the key is to maintain a healthy living for them.  Make sure to have plenty of plants in the tank so they can protect their eggs from any other fish you might have in the tank.  Breeding them requires at least two females and three males.  It is possible to raise bichirs from the egg status, it is much easier to grow them and let them breed naturally.  They also develop consistent feeding patterns which also aids them in their growth.  During the breeding process, the female will lay 100-300 eggs and the male will cup his caudal and anal fins around the genital area of the female.  After the eggs are fertilized, they are scattered over the surrounding plants in the water to ensure their survivability. 

It should be noted that the females are a bit longer in size than the males.  If you are looking to see if your dinosaur bichir is a female or male, then take a look at the anal fin.  Males tend to have a broader anal fin than females.  Also, males tend to have a thicker dorsal spine than females.

Diseases

If you are going to keep a dinosaur bichir fish, then it is imperative that you keep it as healthy as possible in order to prevent any kind of diseases from affecting the fish.  Like most fish in an aquarium, these fish can get sick if the tank is not treated properly.  One common disease that happens with the dinosaur bichir is called the ich.  This is a disease that is caused by protozoa.  The symptoms of ich can be twitching, rubbing their bodies against the surfaces of the tank, and the appearance of white spots on the gills and body.  However, this can easily be treated with the proper medication. 

Furthermore, dinosaur bichirs are known for getting something called “cloudy eye.”  This is due to the poor water quality in the tank, so make sure to filter the water properly and keep the conditions of the water up to par.

If you find yourself treating an individual fish with these conditions, the best practice is to remove the fish into a separate tank that does not have rocks or plants.  If more than one of your fish is acquiring a disease, then it is likely a tank issue which needs to be addressed. 

If you want to keep your dinosaur bichir in top conditions, make sure to get high quality foods for them, as they are less likely to cause organ issues and constipation problems.  Do not overfeed them as they will produce more waste in the tank.  Furthermore, you should change the water every two weeks or so and test the water quality regularly to make sure all of the levels are sound.

It is also important to keep in mind that new tank mates might be carrying bacteria on them, as well as new tank decorations and plants, so be careful.

Tank Mates

Dinosaur bichirs are generally a mildly aggressive fish, which make them ideal for living in a bigger tanked community.  They are more active at night and tend to stay at the bottom of the tank.  However, finding the right tank mates that can live comfortably with the dinosaur bichir can be an important to making sure that the tank stays safe and secure.  When filling up your tank with multiple kinds of fish, make sure that they all are generally agreeable and compatible with each other.

Dinosaur bichir are carnivorous predators, so you need to choose your tank mates with care.  The bichir are generally slow swimmers, but can move fast as a sign of defense.  You want to make sure that the tank mates are about the same size or bigger than the dinosaur bichir so that the bichir does not look at them as potential prey.  Some great options for tank mates could be stingrays, catfish, black sharks, peacock bass, elephant nose fish, and blue acara just to name a few.  Additionally, cichlids are common tank mates with dinosaur bichir as they are too big to fit inside their mouths.  Oscar fish are also a good choice for a tank mate. 

However, goldfish should generally be avoided, especially the small ones that you would see at a pet store.  Betta are also another fish that would not do well with the dinosaur bichir, as the bichir will bother the betta often, which would cause them to have more stress and anxiety.  Snails should also be avoided as that is a prime source of food for the dinosaur bichir.  Anything small will be seen as prey to the bichir, so it is best to avoid these types of fish. 

Where to Find Dinosaur Bichir for Sale

If you are looking to purchase a dinosaur bichir, there are many stores that you can find them.  PetSmart sells them for about 8 USD.  They are also sold at aquariumfish.net for about 14 USD.  However, there are some more professional places where you can purchase a dinosaur bichir.  However, it should be noted that these places have much higher prices than your typical pet store.  For example, the Arizona Aquatic Gardens sells the dinosaur bichir fish for about 62 USD, while other websites like EBay offer fully grown dinosaur bichir for around 100 USD. 

The most expensive items for owning such a fish will generally not be the fish itself, but the tank and all of the accessories that go with the tank.  As mentioned before, a solid filtration system will be needed and the tank itself needs to be fairly large to keep the dinosaur bichir in good health. 

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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