Go Back   Aquarium Advice - Aquarium Forum Community > Freshwater > Freshwater & Brackish - Fish or Plant Profiles
Click Here to Login

Join Aquarium Advice Today
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Please support our sponsors and let them know you heard about them on AquariumAdvice.com
Old 04-09-2004, 09:28 AM   #1
AA Team Emeritus
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Garland,Texas
Posts: 1,914
Senegal Bichir (Polypterus senegalus) by Fruitbat

[center:1608104d40]Senegal (Cuvier's) Bichir[/center:1608104d40]
[center:1608104d40]Polypterus senegalusCuvier[/center:1608104d40]

Written by Fruitbat

Scientific name: Polypterus senegalus Cuvier; Family - Polypteridae; Order - Polypteriformes
Synonyms: Polypterus arnaudii (not valid)
Common Names: Senegal Bichir, Cuvier's Bichir, Gray Bichir, Dinosaur Eel
Region: Nile River basin and western Africa
Maximum Size: about 50cm (19.5 inches). Aquarium specimens usually somewhat smaller.
pH Range and Hardness: very tolerant of a wide range of water conditions. Typically from pH 6.0 - 8.0 and dH between 5.0 - 19.0.
Temperature Range: decidedly tropical; temperature range between 77 - 82 degrees F.

Grouped with the Sturgeons and Paddlefish in the Subclass Chondrostei, the Senegal Bichir has characteristics that lead to it being described as a 'primitive' fish. Skeletal fossils of Polypterids have been found in rocks as old as the Triassic Period (206 - 248 million years ago). The genus Polypterus was first described by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1802 while he accompanied Napoleon's invading army into Egypt. The name Polypterus means 'many fins' which is an apt description of all of these fish which have multiple dorsal finlets instead of a single dorsal fin.

There may be as many as three subspecies of Polypterus senegalus. Polypterus senegalus senegalus and P. senegalus meridionalis are widely accepted and there is a possible third, unnamed subspecies from the Nile River.

Habitat and Niche

The Senegal Bichir is generally found in slow-moving waters, often in swampy regions or along the banks of rivers. The water is frequently turbid (with a lot of suspended fine silt). Polypterus senegalus is primarily a nocturnal predator, feeding on smaller fish, amphibians and insect larvae.


Polypterus senegalus has an elongated body and is generally olive-brown to gray dorsally and white ventrally. There is no pattern present. The dorsal fin is divided into multiple 'finlets' which are continuous with the caudal fin (tail). The upper jaw of Polypterus senegalus usually protrudes a bit beyond the lower jaw (unlike that of Polypterus endlicheri in which the lower jaw is more prominent). The pectoral fins are 'lobe-shaped' and the fish frequently rests on the bottom supported by these fins.

[center:1608104d40]A young (3 inch) albino Polypterus senegalus in my 26-gallon tank[/center:1608104d40]

[center:1608104d40]Baby Polypterus senegalus[/center:1608104d40]

[center:1608104d40]One of the above pictured baby Polypterus senegalus after one month. Notice the loss of the striped pattern.[/center:1608104d40]

Special Characteristics

Scales - The scales of Polypterids are called 'ganoid' scales because they are covered with a coating of a material called ganoine. This material is very tough and helps to prevent water loss through the scales, enabling Polypterids to survive out of water for a day or two. They are generally diamond-shaped and often have fine, tooth-like projections at the rear of each scale.
Swim Bladder - The swim bladder of Polypterids is modified into a pair of functional lung-like structures which permit these fish to use atmospheric air. Also equipped with efficient gills, Polypterus species are able to use both means of respiration to survive. Polypterus will frequently come to the surface of the aquarium to gulp air.
Pectoral Fins - The pectoral fins of Polypterus are lobe-shaped, similar in appearance to those of the 'lobe-finned' fish like the Coelacanth (Latimeria). Bichirs have been known to propel themselves across land by using their pectoral fins as 'legs'.
External Gills - Very young Bichirs have prominent external gills very similar in appearance to those of some young salamanders. These feathery gills are lost as the individual matures.

Breeding Senegal Bichirs

Polypterus senegalus has been bred numerous times in captivity. Courting behavior, which can last a day or more, involves the male bumping the female with his snout and then chasing after her. If the female is receptive she will find a suitable location, generally in a clump of plants, to lay between 100 - 300 slightly adhesive eggs over a period of days. The eggs hatch in about 3 days. The parents should be removed after spawning to prevent them from eating the eggs.

Males can be distinguished from females by the appearance of their anal fin. This fin is much broader in males than in females.

Personal Experiences with Polypterus senegalus

I have successfully kept P. senegalus on a number of occasions over the years. Among my absolute favorite fish, Polypterids are remarkably tough, durable, and very long-lived (up to 34 years in one recorded instance). I have found them to be generally peaceful among fish that are too big to be eaten, though males will occasionally fight with each other and these fights may result in some damage, especially to snout and fins. They are relatively resistant (but not immune) to most common aquarium diseases, including 'Ich' (Ichthyophthirius multifilis). There is a freshwater fluke, Macrogyrodactylus polypteri, that is occasionally found on wild-caught specimens.

Though primarily a nocturnal fish, Polypterus senegalus can be quite active in the aquarium even when the lights are on. They will frequently prowl along the bottom looking for food during the daylight hours and often rise to the surface to get a breath of air. In my experience they like a tank with plenty of hiding places.

I have kept Polypterus senegalus in an aquarium with other fish that are found in their native habitat. Some tank-mates that I have successfully kept with the Senegal Bichir include Ctenopoma species, the African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi), Congo Tetras (Phenacogrammus interruptus), the African Mud Fish (Phractolaemus ansorgii), 'Kribensis' cichlids ( Pelvicachromis species), African Knife Fish (Xenomystus nigri) and the African Spotted Catfish (Parauchenoglanis macrostoma).

Because of its large adult size, I recommend a tank of at least 50 gallons for Polypterus senegalus. When young they can be housed in smaller aquariums but they will need a larger tank as they grow.

Feeding Polypterus senegalus is relatively easy. Though it isn't interested in flake food, the Senegal Bichir will greedily devour frozen bloodworms, frozen or fresh shrimp and frozen beef heart. They will also eat sinking pellets like shrimp pellets and cichlid pellets as well as the occasional suitably-sized feeder fish. If housed with other fish that are aggressive feeders, special care should be taken to ensure that the relatively slow-moving Polypterus is getting some of the food.

One special caution regarding all Polypterids needs to be mentioned here. They are all accomplished escape artists and their aquarium needs to be prepared in such a way as to block all of their possible escape routes. I once had a large (12 inch) Polypterus senegalus that managed to get out of its aquarium and decided to go for a stroll. I found it right after my cat did. Unfortunately for the cat, the Bichir wasn't in the least bit interested in being the feline's lunch and I watched as it lunged aggressively toward the cat with its mouth wide open! I returned it to its aquarium unharmed.


The Senegal Bichir, Polypterus senegalus, is an excellent choice for those who like 'primitive-looking' fish that are relatively active and have a lot of personality. They are very tough fish that will stand a lot of abuse before seeing fit to expire. As they grow they will require a fairly large aquarium and cannot be housed with fish that are small enough to be eaten.


Haruto Kodera, et al., 1994. Jurassic Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, New Jersey.

Herbert Axelrod, Warren Burgess, et al., 1985. Dr. Axelrod's Atlas of Freshwater Aquarium Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, New Jersey.

Article on Polypterus senegalus senegalus at Fishbase.org
http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=5024&genusname=Polypterus&speciesname=senegalus%2 0senegalus

Article on DigiMorph of Polypterus senegalus from the University of Texas at Austin.

(Note: edited 6/13/04 to add new picture of baby P. senegalus)
(Note: edited 7/14/04 to add updated picture of baby P. senegalus)
(Note: edited 9/1/04 to correct a dreadful spelling error that I just noticed!!) :oops:

Aquarist since 1964
Fruitbat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-09-2004, 10:12 AM   #2
Aquarium Advice Freak
Hypostomus's Avatar
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 494
This gives me a wonderful idea for an African biotope tank, and it's a very good profile besides!

I'd just be worried that once say..the showpiece knife and bichir in said tank get to their adult sizes, the Congo tetras and/or kribensis might start "disappearing.."

55g freshwater - tetras, catfish, loaches
10g freshwater - firebelly newts
Hypostomus is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-09-2004, 12:41 PM   #3
AA Team Emeritus
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Garland,Texas
Posts: 1,914
LOL!! They might just disappear at that....though I didn't have that problem when I kept them with the African Knife and Bichirs. The Congo Tets get reasonably large and are fairly wary and fast and seem to keep out of the predator's way. The 'Kribensis' tend to stick close to their hiding places and just duck out of the way when they feel threatened. Of course...one can never predict fully what might happen once the lights go out!

I used to have a 450 gallon African river biotope with the combination of fish that I listed in the profile (plus a few more species of bichir). It was my favorite tank of all time and I regret the day I parted with it! My upcoming 72 gallon bow-front will be set up like that (on a smaller scale).
Aquarist since 1964
Fruitbat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-22-2004, 01:47 AM   #4
Aquarium Advice Newbie
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Utah
Posts: 2
Cunier's Bichir advice

I recently came across a pair of 3 to 4 inch Cuvier's Bichir. The pet store has no idea what they are so the price they want for them is extremely cheap. I am curious on how they might do if they were housed with a mudskipper and 2 albino clawed frogs. I am aware that the bichir's can grow large but I am hoping that they can be housed in this tank for a short time. The mudskipper and frogs are eating the same diet that the bichir's require and the tank has many hiding places and perches with a very secure lid.

Also is it better to have just one or are they OK in pairs.

Thanks for any info.
Talarra is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-22-2004, 01:57 AM   #5
AA Team Emeritus
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Garland,Texas
Posts: 1,914

At the 3 to 4 inch size for the bichir, your mudskipper and frogs will probably be OK as far as being eaten is concerned. Do you keep your mudskipper in brackish water and does it have a place in the tank where it can get up on dry land?? If the tank is primarily set up to meet the mudskipper's requirements then it might not be the best place for a Polypterus.

Though I'm sure some will scream bloody murder....if your heart is set on getting the bichirs then my recommendation would be that, if you can afford it, you get a 10 gallon set up and use it a temporary home for the Polypterus until a larger tank can be provided. I've seen nearly complete 10 gallon setups at some of the chain pet stores for $59.00 (with a fluourescent hood) or $49.00 (with an incandescent hood). I know these don't come with top-of-the-line filters, heaters, etc. but they'll certainly suffice if you're going to use the tank as a temporary facility (and it will make a great quarantine tank when you're done using it for the bichirs).

2 male bichirs in the same aquarium will sometimes fight, especially as they mature. If you can get a male and a female then you shouldn't have any problems at all keeping them in the same tank.

Hope this helps!
Aquarist since 1964
Fruitbat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-22-2004, 02:20 AM   #6
Aquarium Advice Newbie
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Utah
Posts: 2
Wow, Thanks for your fast responce. I just found this site and I am already impressed.

The tank is set up for the mudskipper but there is lots of open area. The mudskipper can get out of the water but it is not totally dry in that area. I am also getting ready to move everyone in that tank to a 29 gallon tank. The tank is not set up as a brackish tank but I do have a 20 gallon that is but it currently houses a pictus cat and a moray eel and they WILL be able to eat the bichir at their current size. I also have another 29 gallon tank that house larger tetras (congo, emperor, buenos aires ect...) but I also have rummy nose tetras in there and I am afraid they would get eaten by the bichir.

I guess the best option is to leave my skipper and frogs in their smaller tank and set up the 29 gallon just for the Bichir. I am an animal lover and want the best for all my creatures.

You mention that 2 males might fight so at their current size do you think I will be able to tell the sexes on them or do they need to be much bigger.

Thanks for the help.
Talarra is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-22-2004, 09:09 AM   #7
AA Team Emeritus
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Garland,Texas
Posts: 1,914
It will probably be difficult to determine the gender on bichirs as small as the ones you're contemplating. Check the anal fin....the anal fin on the male is much broader and thicker than the female's. This is much easier as the fish matures but you might get lucky! Even if you do end up with two males you probably won't have TOO much of a problem...especially while they're still small.
Aquarist since 1964
Fruitbat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-13-2004, 11:03 PM   #8
Aquarium Advice Apprentice
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Penang, Malaysia
Posts: 20
Can you help me with my problem? I have two senegal bichirs for 7 months now. Bought them both at the same time and about the same length (7cm). The thing is, now one of them has grown to be about 17cm and fat while the other is only about 13cm and significantly thinner than the other. What happened here? Is my bichir stunted?

paulyeoh is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-13-2004, 11:30 PM   #9
AA Team Emeritus
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: The South-SOoTHWEsT that is
Posts: 1,601
Send a message via AIM to Christmasfish Send a message via Skype™ to Christmasfish
heh ! neat article!
I absolutely love my bichir..sure don't know how I will set up his final tank...

He was marked as a Nile Bichir .. Polypterus bichir bichir (not endlicheri or Lapradei Nile Bichir I dont think.)
But I do know for certain one parent was a huge fish nearly 40 inches long.
He is a funny personable critter. Noisy too... I slpet in teh room he is in and he goes "BLOOP!" everytinme he breaches. Sometimes bloop with a squaky duck sounding exhalation. I have to get a sound byte. Every time he squeaks in daytime., he gets my croaking gourami going. Eats EVERYThing!
And has already escaped and attempted the stairs. Grows Faaast!
"Fish! Thank You! Oh, tropical huh? Did you buy a heater? Auuugh!"

Mega-pet stores prolly should not be allowed to sell animals as retail "items".
Christmasfish is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-14-2004, 12:38 AM   #10
Aquarium Advice FINatic
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Erie, CO
Posts: 681
Originally Posted by paulyeoh
Can you help me with my problem? I have two senegal bichirs for 7 months now. Bought them both at the same time and about the same length (7cm). The thing is, now one of them has grown to be about 17cm and fat while the other is only about 13cm and significantly thinner than the other. What happened here? Is my bichir stunted?
This is just a guess but perhaps they are the same sex and the fatter one has asserted dominance over the smaller one and therefore takes the food first and gets more food.

patryuji is offline   Reply With Quote

chi, ich, polyp, polypterus

Please support our sponsors and let them know you heard about them on AquariumAdvice.com

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
My bichir (Polypterus senegalus) is dead crabby Freshwater & Brackish - Unhealthy Fish 2 06-30-2009 06:25 AM
plain senegal bichir mated wth senegal albino ??? bra_van_drakh Freshwater & Brackish - Breeding 2 07-04-2007 01:33 AM
Mixed advice on Cuvier's Bichir (Senegal Bichir, dragonfish, afjeffrey Freshwater & Brackish - General Discussion 3 12-24-2005 02:44 AM
Armored Bichir (Polypterus delhezi) by Fruitbat Fruitbat Freshwater & Brackish - Fish or Plant Profiles 4 03-05-2005 03:32 PM

» Photo Contest Winners

Copyright 2002- Social Knowledge, LLC All Rights Reserved.

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 09:42 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.