Marbled Bichir (Polypterus palmas): Ultimate Care Guide

Marbled Bichir, also known as Palmas or Shortfin Bichir, is native to Africa and has a unique eel-like appearance. Bichirs have lungs as well as gills, and can breathe air directly when necessary. This adaptation allows them to survive in shallow waters which may lack oxygen. This is a predatory species which needs a steady diet of live and meaty foods. They aren’t aggressive but will eat any fish small enough to fit in their mouths. They shouldn’t be kept with smaller tank mates or fish which are prone to fin nipping behavior. If you’re planning on adding this species to your collection this guide will show you everything needed for the proper care of this unusual fish species.

Marbled Bichir Care

Marbled Bichir need live food, excellent water filtration, and dim lighting. This is a nocturnal species and will appreciate floating plants to block some outside light. This can be a hardy species as long as they have the right food and enough filtration to keep their water quality high. Filtration is especially important as Marbled Bichirs are messy eaters, and uneaten meaty foods carry a high risk of spoiling tank water.

Are Marbled Bichir easy to care for?

Marbled Bichir need a diet of live and meaty foods, but are otherwise simple to care for. Beginning hobbyists who aren’t intimidated by Bichir feeding requirements will find this to be a hardy and rewarding addition to their aquariums.

Marbled Bichir
Marbled Bichir

Temperature for Marbled Bichir

Marbled Bichirs can live comfortably in water temperatures between 74° and 82° F.

Water pH for Marbled Bichir

Marbled Bichir prefer mostly neutral water, at least between 6.2 and 7.5 pH.

Marbled Bichir Size

Adult Marbled Bichirs can grow up to 14 inches long.

Food & Diet for Marbled Bichir

Marbled Bichirs are nocturnal feeders which should be provided a range of live and frozen meaty foods. Ideal foods include blood worms, black worms, frozen brine shrimp, and beef heart. The best time for feeding is just before lights out. Trying to feed in the day can result in uneaten food rotting and spoiling tank water.

Marbled Bichir Lifespan

Most Marbled Bichirs can live 10 to 15 years in captivity. Exceptionally healthy specimens can live up to 20 years with high quality care.

Tank Size for Marbled Bichir

Marbled Bichirs need large aquariums to accommodate their full adult size. 120 gallons should be the minimum you should consider. Aquariums should be wider and deeper than tall as this is a mostly bottom-dwelling fish.

Tank Setup for Marbled Bichir

Ideal tank setups for Marbled Bichir include medium to medium-fine gravel or sand substrates along with rocks, bogwood, and caves. Any plants must have their roots protected with rocks to prevent damage or uprooting by Bichirs. This species is nocturnal, so high intensity lighting should be avoided. It’s a good idea to include floating plants to reduce brightness in their aquarium. You’ll also want to provide a tight fitting lid. This species is a jumping risk if they get spooked or during the night. Adult Bichirs can throw themselves against lids with impressive force, so be prepared to weigh down your tank’s lid.

Marbled Bichirs are messy eaters and need strong filtration to keep their water quality high. You should select a filter system capable of turning over at least 5 times the volume of your aquarium in an hour. Canister filters can be a good choice for this species because their high current can keep waste and debris suspended for easy removal.

Breeding Marbled Bichir

Most Marbled Bichir specimens available in the trade are wild caught. It’s possible, but difficult to breed this fish in captivity. Hobbyists that have successfully bred this species have tried to stimulate spawning by frequent water changes and lower water temperatures. There is no breeding trigger that is 100% reliable, and hobbyist breeders will need to experiment to succeed.

How do Marbled Bichir breed?

Marbled Bichir males start breeding by acting aggressively towards the females, this behavior can last a day or more. The female will deposit 100 to 300 eggs over several days which the male fertilizes. Females prefer spawning areas with heavy plant growth with small leaves to safely receive eggs. Heavy plant cover is necessary because this species will eat their own eggs if they can find them.

Once eggs hatch, wait a week before feeding fry until after they have consumed their egg sacs. Ideal food should be small, such as live brine shrimp. Large Bichir fry can eat smaller fry, so it may be necessary to move larger fry to a separate area.

How to tell the difference between Male and Female Marbled Bichir

Marbled Bichir Males have longer and wider anal fins than females. Females generally have larger bodies.

Common Disease for Marbled Bichir

Most Marbled Bichir diseases are the result of poor water quality. Keeping tank water filtered and regularly changed is important, but can be a challenge as this species is a messy eater. Keep an eye out for common freshwater fish diseases such as Ich. Ich can be visible as small white specks along body and fins.

Tank Mates for Marbled Bichir

Marbled Bichir aren’t especially aggressive but are predatory and will eat smaller fish. The best tank mates are other Bichirs and larger fish which won’t be mistaken for food. Oscar, Jack Dempsey, Clown Loach, and Flowerhorn Cichlids are good tank mate pairings. Avoid smaller fish such as smaller Tetras,  Danios or any species small enough to fit in the Bichir’s mouth. Even though the Marbled Bichir is predatory they can also be the targets of aggression. Watch your fish for signs of attack or fin nipping from other tank mates.

Where can I find Marbled Bichir for sale?

Marbled Bichirs can be difficult to find for sale in local fish stores, and can even be hard to find online. Expect to pay between $40 USD and $90 USD depending on size.

Marbled Bichir vs Dinosaur Bichir

Marbled Bichir and Dinosaur Bichir have similar care needs, but the Dinosaur Bichir has plainer coloration and a more dragon-like appearance. The Dinosaur Bichir, also known as Senegal Bichir, are usually wild-caught. There isn’t a reliable way to breed this species.

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