Ornate Bichir (Polypterus Ornatipinnis): Ultimate Care Guide


Common NameOrnate Bichir, Dinosaur Eel
Scientific NamePolypterus Ornatipinnis
OriginEast Africa
Temperature77F – 82F
Water pH6.0 – 8.0
Adult Sizeup to 24 inches
DietCarnivorous

Ornate Bichir Facts

  1. Ornate Bichirs closely resemble eels, but they are not in the eel family at all.
  2. Ornate Bichirs are a nocturnal fish that will hide during the day.
  3. Ornate Bichir are often referred to as living dinosaurs.

Ornate Bichir have a black and yellow patterned body. On the backs of Ornate Bichir are 9 to 11 dorsal spines. Ornate Bichir have long bodies that resemble the look of an eel. Ornate Bichir have a set of primitive lungs that allow them to breathe in water that is low in oxygen. Ornate Bichir can survive outside of water for long periods of time as long as they remain wet.

Telling the male Ornate Bichir from the female can be quite tricky as both fish remain similar markings throughout their whole lives. Males typically have wider and thicker dorsal fins, while the females have larger, wider bodies.

Ornate Bichir (Polypterus Ornatipinnis)
Ornate Bichir (Polypterus Ornatipinnis)

Ornate Bichir Care

Ornate Bichirs (Polypterus Ornatipinnis) are great additions to any large home aquarium setup that also includes other large fish species. They will typically ignore other fish in the aquarium, and they are quite hardy fish that are able to stand a wider range of water parameters. They have a long lifespan, and are considered by many to be hardy fish. The key to the success of keeping Ornate Bichirs healthy and happy is to provide them with the appropriate, clean setup. Owners of Ornate Bichir have been able to get them to live well past their projected lifespan this way.

Ornate Bichir Food & Diet

Ornate Bichirs are carnivorous fish. In the wild, they will prey on smaller fish, crabs, insects, snails, worms, other fish eggs, and even smaller Ornate Bichir.

In captivity, Ornate Bichir are picky eaters that will not readily accept dried foods. You will want to offer them a variety of high quality frozen foods. Brine shrimp and bloodworms are good foods to feed a smaller Ornate Bichir, but you will want to feed large Ornate Bichir foods such as chopped shrimp, prawns, and mussels.

Ornate Bichir Size & LIfespan

On the size scale for home aquarium fish to keep, Ornate Bichir are rather large. In the wild, they can grow up to 24 inches in length, but in captivity you will see your Ornate Bichir reach a length that is closer to 18 inches. If cared for properly, you can expect your Ornate Bichir to live to be around 10 to 15 years old. If they are kept in perfect conditions, it is not unheard of for them to live up to 20 years.

Tank Requirements

For housing Ornate Bichir, you will want to place them in a minimum of a 180 gallon tank. This will give them plenty of room to explore and hide. It is better to house them in a tank that is wider, opposed to tall. They prefer waters that are kept at around 77F to 82F, and 6.0 to 8.0 pH. It is important for the health and lifespan of Ornate Bichir that their tank remains clean, and you will want to make sure that you have a powerful enough filtration system.

 Ornate Bichir are a nocturnal species that will hide during the day and become active during the night hours, so you will not need to worry about what lighting you have as long as you are giving them a day and night cycle. Failing to provide them with a day and night cycle will stress out your Ornate Bichir, and cause them to become more susceptible to ailments and stress.

Ornate Bichir Tank Setup

When setting up a tank for Ornate Bichir, it is important to consider the substrate. Ornate Bichirs like to burrow in the sand sometimes. You will want to choose a substrate that is fine sand. Lots of plants make for great tank decor, as do rocks that can be used for caves, and driftwood. You will be able to notice that your Ornate Bichirs will find places throughout the tank that they will hide and sleep in during the day.

Ornate Bichir Disease

The biggest threat to Ornate Bichir is parasites. Ornate Bichirs are often infected by internal or external parasites. If caught early on, these parasites can be treated and Ornate Bichir rid of them. Ornate Bichirs can be infected with Ich, which is an infection that shows up on the outside of the fish’s scales in white spots. These spots will grow to take over the fish if left untreated and eventually cause death. Keep in mind when choosing a treatment method that Ornate Bichir are sensitive to some medicines. You will want to avoid any medicine for them that is copper based.

Ornate Bichir Breeding

It is considered a rather difficult endeavor to breed Ornate Bichir in the home aquarium, and it is for this reason that most of the Ornate Bichirs you see for sale are wild caught. There are not a lot of recorded successes in breeding Ornate Bichirs in captivity. Therefore, if you would like to increase your Ornate Bichir numbers, you have to purchase them.

Ornate Bichir become mature enough to breed at around 5 or 6 years. It is possible for a young female to carry underdeveloped eggs, and this can stress out males who are ready to spawn much earlier on.

Once female Ornate Bichir are ready, and they have found a mate, you will be able to observe both the male and female Ornate Bichirs locking themselves together at the anal fin. This is when the male fertilized the eggs. Once this has occurred, the female will find a place to lay her eggs. Ornate Bichir eggs are slightly adhesive, and will stick to the surface where they are laid. Female Ornate Bichirs can lay up to 300 eggs at a time. It takes roughly a week for Ornate Bichir fry to become free swimming. Ornate Bichirs provide no parental support to their fry, and will even eat their own eggs. If you are able, a dedicated breeding setup is a must to ensure that your Ornate Bichir fry survive.

If you are able to get Ornate Bichir to breed in captivity, it is important that you remove the parent fish away from the eggs as soon as possible.

Ornate Bichir Tank Mates

Ornate Bichir are a good choice for a large community tank that houses the more aggressive fish. Ornate Bichir will typically ignore other fish of different species, and only sometimes become aggressive towards their own species. It seems largely dependent on how well they are kept, and their personality if they get along with other fish in a community tank.

Examples of compatible fish to house with Ornate Bichir are Oscar fish, some Cichlids, and types of Loaches.

Incompatible fish examples would be any fish that are aggressive, competitive for food, or fish that are smaller than the Ornate Bichir. They will go after and eat any fish that are small enough to fit in their mouths.

Are Ornate Bichir Aggressive?

Ornate Bichir are not a particularly aggressive species of Bichir, but they will go after and eat any smaller fish that can fit into their mouths. You will want to make sure that there is enough space to house Ornate Bichir so that they have places to sleep and get away from other fish.

Ornate Bichir and Goldfish

Ornate Bichirs and Goldfish do enjoy roughly the same water parameters, but it is not a good idea to house goldfish with Ornate Bichir. Goldfish will most likely become food, and suffer from fin damage from nipping from Ornate Bichir.

Ornate Bichir and Cichlids

Ornate Bichirs make for ideal tank mates for most Cichlid species. Ornate Bichirs have a more relaxed nature and will avoid other fish, at the same time they are large and tough enough that they do not become a meal.

Ornate Bichir and Betta Fish

Even though Betta fish and Ornate Bichir both enjoy roughly the same water parameters, it is not a good idea to house any Betta with Ornate Bichir. Ornate Bichir are much larger hunter fish that will mistake the Betta for food and likely consume them for a meal. Long flowy fins of Betta fish are very tempting for the Ornate Bichir to nip at, and even with fish being fed appropriately, Ornate Bichir will still see Betta as food.

Where Can I Find Ornate Bichir for Sale?

If you are looking to purchase Ornate Bichir, you will be able to purchase them in pet stores and online. You will want to make sure that wherever you purchase them from, that you are getting them from a reputable source so that you ensure you are getting a good quality, healthy fish. They are usually around $60 depending on the size of the fish and the seller.

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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