Saddled Bichir (Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri): Care Guide

Almost a living fossil, the Saddled Bichir has an elongated body with spiky dorsal fins which makes it look like a prehistoric fish. Their body is light brown with dark brown splotches along the sides. Often found in marshy environments or rivers, the Saddled Bichir can be found across Africa where it is a common fish species. This fish also has functional lungs which allow it to breathe in shallow water.

Best kept alone or with other members of the same species the Saddled Bichir is a carnivore who’ll eat anything which fits in their mouth. This isn’t to say it’s aggressive. This species can coexist with larger peaceful fish species and isn’t known to bully larger tank mates in most cases. Saddled Bichirs are hardy fish but have some unique care needs you should know before adding one to your collection. We’ve put together this guide with everything you’ll need to know for years of success with this unusual freshwater aquarium fish!

Saddled Bichir (Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri)
Saddled Bichir (Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri)

Saddled Bichir Care

Saddled Bichirs need sandy substrate, high-protein food, and large well planted aquariums. This is a hardy species that can live decades in captivity. They are messy eaters which need extra filtration and water changes to keep their environment healthy.

Are Saddled Bichir easy to care for?

Saddled Bichirs are hardy but need large aquariums and meaty high-protein food. These special needs mean they may not be the best choice for beginning aquarium hobbyists.


Saddled Bichirs need water temperatures between 74° and 82° F.

Water pH

Saddled Bichirs prefer water pH between 6.2 and 7.8. These are minimum and maximum values, and it’s best to keep water as close to neutral as possible.

Saddled Bichir Size

Saddled Bichirs are the largest of any Bichir species and can reach a maximum length of 2 ½ feet! It’s important to select a properly sized tank which can handle the full adult size of this species.

Food & Diet

Saddled Bichirs are carnivores which need a diet of meaty and high-protein foods. Pellet and flake foods won’t be enough to satisfy this fish’s nutritional needs. Good food choices would include nightcrawlers, bloodworms, and shrimp. If you provide live foods the Saddled Bichir may enjoy hunting as it does in the wild. This species is a nocturnal feeder so the best time to feed is in the evening just after lights out. If you feed during the day it’s unlikely they will eat and uneaten food may spoil. Saddled Bichirs are messy eaters and you’ll want to feed enough, but not so much that uneaten food has time to rot which can lead to polluted water. Even the best feeding schedule won’t be perfect, and excellent filtration with frequent water changes will usually be necessary.

Saddled Bichir Lifespan

Saddled Bichirs can live 10 to 15 years in captivity. With excellent care this species has been known to live 20 years.

Saddled Bichir (Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri)
Saddled Bichir (Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri)

Tank Size

Saddled Bichirs can grow very large and need aquariums which can handle their full adult size. The basic rule is to allow 90 gallons per Bichir. You may need more than this depending on how your tank is setup. This species does enjoy room to swim so aquariums should be deeper and wider than tall, especially if you are keeping more than one at a time.

Tank Setup

Saddled Bichirs enjoy planted aquariums with sandy substrates, and enough horizontal room to swim freely. Sand should always be preferred over gravel as gravel can hurt this fish’s belly as they move across the bottom of the tank. It’s also possible for Bichirs to swallow gravel which can cause digestive and health problems. It’s best to include plants with rocks and driftwood to simulate their native environment. They enjoy swimming freely, but also like to hide and rest in areas were they feel protected. The right mix of open space with plants and wood can help your Bichir feel comfortable and less stressed.

Filtration is important because Saddled Bichirs are messy eaters, and their high protein diet can reduce water quality. You’ll want a powerful filtration system which can turn over at least 5 times the volume of your tank in an hour. Canister filters can be a good choice although they can be more expensive than common filter types. It’s also important to have water currents in the aquarium which can help keep debris suspended for easy removal by the filter. Canister filter systems can have strong outputs which can help add extra water movement inside your aquarium. Alternatively you can include powerheads or wavemakers to introduce more water movement. Wavemakers are common in marine aquariums, and resemble small electric fans which are capable of moving lots of water. Wavemakers will only be suitable for very large aquariums, but can be the perfect solution in some situations.

If you have a large aquarium and want to reduce the volume and frequency of water changes it might be worth considering adding an external sump filter and freshwater refugium. Normally used in marine aquarium setups, sump filters are smaller external tanks which contain filter material and often plants. The best external sumps are usually 20% the volume of the main aquarium, and can be stocked with plants and supplied with their own lighting. Adding extra filtering plants can help to keep water nitrates in check, and sometimes refugiums can be used to raise small live food to feed your Bichirs. The higher initial cost of setting up a refugium can save you money and time when you consider the labor and expense of large, frequent water changes.

Saddled Bichir Breeding

It is difficult to breed Saddled Bichirs in captivity. Many of the specimens in the trade have been wild caught. Breeding triggers are poorly understood so there aren’t any solid guidelines for success. Most hobbyists who have tried to breed this fish have been disappointed. In nature they spawn during the rainy season so cooler temperatures with large and frequent water changes with soft water are likely needed. Some commercial fish suppliers offer tank raised Saddled Bichirs. If they have a breeding secret they aren’t telling anyone. Commercial breeders often encourage fish to spawn by treatment with breeding hormones such as Ovaprim. Hormones are an advanced breeding method and aren’t common with hobbyist home breeders.

How do Saddled Bichir breed?

In nature, Saddled Bichirs breed during the rainy season. The male will chase and headbutt the female for two to three days. Eventually the female will find a location to lay eggs. Ideal egg laying locations are in bushy plants, so your breeding aquarium will need to be well planted. Once the female lays eggs the male will fertilize them. After the eggs have been laid and fertilized it’s best to remove the adults and wait for fry to hatch. Once fry hatch they should be placed in a smaller breeding box and fed with microworms, vinegar eels, and freshly hatched brine shrimp. Vinegar eels are more trouble to raise than microworms or brine shrimp, but can live longer in fresh water which gives the fry more time to catch and eat them.

How to tell the difference between Male or Female Saddled Bichir

It can be difficult to correctly sex Saddled Bichirs. Males will have thicker and wider anal and dorsal fins, while females can have slightly thicker bodies.

Saddled Bichir Disease

Saddled Bichirs are hardy fish which don’t have any species-specific diseases. They are susceptible to common freshwater diseases such as Ich which is visible as white spots along body, head, and gills. Prevention is the best precaution, so all new tank additions should be kept under observation in a separate quarantine tank (QT) for four to six weeks to check for signs of disease. This is especially important with this species as many Saddled Bichirs available for sale have been wild caught.

Saddled Bichir Tank Mates

Saddled Bichirs are predatory fish which are hard to successfully pair with tank mates. They will try to eat any fish which is small enough to fit in their mouths. The best tank mates will be larger non-predatory species.

Examples of Compatible and Incompatible Tank Mates

Saddled Bichirs are carnivores which are best paired with members of their own species. Avoid any smaller fish such as Tetras, Rasboras, or Cory Catfish as all of these will look like food to a hungry or bored Bichir. Good tank mates will include larger species such as Clown Loachs, Oscars, Flowerhorn Cichlids, and Jack Dempsey fish. The general rule for picking tank mates is if they are small enough to fit in your Bichir’s mouth they’ll likely be eaten.

Where can I find Saddled Bichir for sale?

Saddled Bichirs are sometimes hard to find for sale in local fish stores and can even be difficult to locate from online suppliers. You’ll often need to be placed on a waiting list. Prices vary by size and location of origin. Expect to pay as little as $40 USD or as much as $330 USD for a very large specimen.

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