The Dinosaur Bichir, also known as Polypterus senegalus, the Senegal Bichir, Gray Bichir, or Cuvier’s Bichir, is a treat to watch, as it adds a prehistoric feel to your tank. What’s more, this fish looks like an ancient Chinese dragon, and the way it moves gives off an air of mystery!

In case you are interested in this fish, this article should help you realize your goal. Below, you will learn everything about Dinosaur Bichir care.

Dinosaur Bichir Stats

Category Rating
Synonyms: Polypterus arnaudii

Polypterus meridionalis

Family: Polypteridae
Genus: Polypterus
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Nocturnal

Opportunistic predator

Compatibility: Non-aggressive monster fish
Average Size: 18 – 20 inches
Color & Patterns: Solid grey
Diet: Carnivore
Tank Size: 90 gallons for 1 fish
Tank Setup: Lidded tank

Dense vegetation

Subdued lighting

Sand substrate

pH: 6 – 8
Temperature: 74° F – 84° F

Distribution and Original Habitat

Senegal Bichir is a misnomer. Because of its name, one might assume that this species originates in Senegal’s world-famous Lake Retba, which is one of the two pink lakes in the world. However, the pink lake is inhabitable due to its extremely high salt content. So, where exactly do Bichirs come from?

Senegal Bichirs inhabit river margins, marshes, and freshwater lagoons throughout the tropical regions of Africa. Apart from Senegal, you can find these guys in 25 other African countries, including Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Millions of Years of History

This species is neither an eel nor a dinosaur, but it is otherwise known as “Dinosaur Eel.” Although this creature looks nothing like a dino, Bichirs and their relatives have walked the Earth alongside prehistoric reptiles. The exotic Bichir is in fact a remnant of an ancient lineage of fish, having about 60 million years of independent evolution.

And yes, you read it correctly. These fish can walk!

Bichirs have several physical adaptations that contribute to their high survival rate. These fish would wriggle their way out of their murky bogs to seek food or escape the jaws of their predators. More impressively, Bichirs can live several months on land as long as their bodies remain moist.

Physical Characteristics

There are several types of Bichirs, and among the most popular ones in the aquarium hobby is the Senegal Bichir. Bichirs are quite interesting as they have certain attributes you would rarely find in other fish.

How Big Do Senegal Bichirs Get?

The Dinosaur Bichir resembles an eel due to its elongated body. The slender, eel-like body of the Dinosaur Bichir is perfectly suited for traveling in heavily vegetated waters. Although they are not as large as other Bichirs, the Dinosaur Bichir size can reach up to 20 inches (50 cm) nonetheless.

Do Senegal Bichirs Come in Different Colors and Patterns?

Senegal Bichirs only come in various shades of grey. There also exist albino variants, which are now selectively bred. Additionally, these fish exhibit hardy scales that make them look like ancient dragons.

Another striking feature of the Dinosaur Bichir is its dorsal fin. Rather than have a single dorsal fin, it has a series of distinctive finlets running down along its back.

What Makes Senegal Bichirs Highly Adaptable?

Although they are not among the flashiest of fish, they possess several physical adaptations that have allowed them to survive in shallow waters with dissolved oxygen levels.

Along with the lungfish and a few other fish, Senegal Bichirs are equipped with both gills and a pair of lungs. As such, these oddballs can crawl out of oxygen-poor tropical waters and breathe air from the atmosphere.

Another key contributor to their survivability is their lobe pectoral fins that often seem to function like arms, rather than fins. As such, the fish could easily push themselves in and out of dense vegetation. This arm-like movement also allows the fish to lift itself out of the water to take a breath.

Why Do Other Senegal Bichirs Look Different?

Senegal Bichirs that resulted from mass farming look different from their wild-caught cousins. Farming Bichirs in a small gene pool results in bulging frog-like eyes, a rounder head, and deformed dorsal spines.

Behavior and Temperament

Senegal Bichirs are capable of doing many things. These guys will always leave their spectators in awe just by letting their instincts kick in.

Breathe Atmospheric Air

Bichirs can breathe using their mouth or through their spiracles. The Dinosaur Bichir has spiracles at the top of its head. When the fish rises to the surface of the water, it exhales a bubble of gas from its lungs through its operculum. Then the operculum closes to form a tight seal, followed by the spiracles opening. Inhalation begins as the air gets drawn into the lungs through the open spiracles.

Locate Their Prey Through Smell

These fish might be partially blind, but they are olfactory predators nonetheless. Using its heightened sense of smell, the Dinosaur Bichir follows the scent trail of its prey. Remarkably, its nostrils never fail to provide the exact location of its meal.

Receive Electrical Signals

Apart from its exceptional sense of smell, the Dinosaur Bichir has specialized organs that pick up electrical waves. Referred to as the Ampullae of Lorenzini, these electroreceptors allow the fish to detect the minute electrical waves emitted by the muscle contractions of their live prey.

Kill Large Prey with Death Roll

Tetras and danios are not the only fish that make for a good snack for the Dinosaur Bichir. This opportunistic carnivore will also devour loaches and other similar-sized fish. Bichirs do not need to swallow the fish whole, as they perform a feeding technique called death roll.

Death roll involves the Bichir grasping a part of its prey and then spinning rapidly around it, similar to what alligators and crocodiles would do. This technique thereby allows the Bichir to rip the flesh of its prey into sections small enough for it to swallow.

Use Inertial Suction to Feed

The Dinosaur Bichir does not pick up food the way other fish do. Instead, this species vacuums its prey into its mouth by rapidly opening its jaws and expanding its buccal cavity. The drawback to this strategy, however, is that the fish may also swallow bits of the substrate along with its food. This is bad news if you use gravel as the substrate.

Greedy, Opportunistic Feeders

Bear in mind that Bichirs are opportunistic eaters. It will feed upon fish carcasses if there is any and stuff itself as much food as possible. If your fish had a large meal, you may observe it bending its body sideways to adjust the food in its stomach and allow more space for food.

Nocturnal

As these fish are nocturnal, their exploratory activity will occur at night. On the bright side, these guys will often become more active during the day once they are established in an aquarium with plenty of hiding places.

Dinosaur Bichir Care Guide

The Dinosaur Bichir lifespan is usually between 10 to 15 years. However, it is not out of the question if your pet hits two decades, especially if you always go the extra mile.

Diet

In the wild, the Dinosaur Bichir has a diet that includes amphibians, earthworms, and small invertebrates. Needless to say, you’ll need to replicate its natural diet for it to thrive in captivity.

You may still use modern fish feed to supplement your pet’s diet, but it should not serve as their staple food.

As a carnivore, this fish needs protein-rich food.

The best options for your pet are:

  • Krill
  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Bits of red meat and offals
  • Shrimp or prawn
  • Chopped up fish fillet

It is always better to feed your pet with live food rather than rely on pellets and flakes. Live food delivers more vitamins and minerals for your fish. What’s more, it brings out their natural predatory behaviors. Since Senegal Bichirs are nocturnal, you’ll need to feed your fish early in the morning and at night.

Water Conditions

Senegal Bichirs can endure extremely poor water conditions because they have many ways to counter their problems. But as responsible pet owners, we should always spare no effort to make their new home habitable as it can ever be.

1. Equipment

Before anything else, do Bichirs need a filter and an air pump? This question has been asked quite a lot. For the most part, yes. Even if you already have an air stone, I recommend you use a sponge filter, as it provides biological filtration in addition to aeration.

But in some instances, a Bichir’s poop might be too big for the filter to suck up, leaving the entire poop laying on the bottom of the tank. When this happens, you’ll need to get rid of it manually using a siphon. You may also use a powerhead with a timer to blow the poop around, reducing it to bits that your filter can suck it up.

2. Temperature

Senegal Bichirs will be happy swimming in soft water with pH levels between 6 and 8. The temperature should be between 77 to 84° F.

3. Maintenance

Perform partial water changes each week and monitor the water parameters of your aquarium regularly using a test kit. Be proactive and handle anything that might seem out of their ordinary.

Disease

The macrogyrodactylus polypteri is a host-specific ectoparasitic flatworm that likes to target bichirs. These nasty worms appear like fine hair strands attached to the skin, gills, and fins of the Dinosaur Fish.

If your pet is infected, you will need to remove the substrate and soak it in boiled water. In doing so, it kills the worms and larvae that have laid dormant among the sand. While waiting for the substrate to cool down, you will need to treat the bare bottom tank with a dose of an external parasite medicine.

Ideally, look for medicines containing either:

  • Levamisole/Ergamisol
  • Formaldehyde and Malachite Green

Formaldehyde will work best, but I recommend it only if you have the experience. Otherwise, you might exceed the dose and kill your Dinosaur Fish immediately.
Another strategy is to relocate your bichir to a quarantine tank. Add salt to the water and raise its temperature up to 90° F for five days.

Tank Setup

One of the best things you can do for a Dinosaur Bichir is to make sure it is being housed safely and comfortably.

Tank Size

Some owners have kept their Bichirs in a 50-gallon tank, but I completely disagree with this. Senegal Bichirs may grow to reach 20 inches in length. The ideal Dinosaur Bichir tank size is 90 gallons for one fish. Make it 125 gallons if you plan on keeping a pair. If you wish to add several large, compatible species in the future, then you will definitely need the largest tank possible.

Lid

You do not want to come home finding your Bichir sprawled across your floor, do you? So, it is important to have a close-fitting lid that this mighty aquatic dinosaur cannot push open.

Senegal Bichirs are obligate breathers. While these guys love to hang out in the bottom, they need to swim towards the surface every so often. Therefore, you will want to leave a few inches of space between the waterline and the lid. So when your pet surfaces for air, it cannot push the lids right off the aquarium and wander around.

Decorations

Bichirs are not too fussed about the aquascape. So, you are free to express your creativity in your underwater garden. But because these guys can grow so long, it is best to keep decorations to a minimum and focus more on vegetation, particularly floating plants.

Dense planting is useful, as it provides cover from light and serves as a refuge for your fish. Newly introduced Bichirs may remain floating at the water’s surface before they settle on the bottom of the tank.

Substrate

Do not use gravel. A few years ago, a fellow aquarist made a grave mistake of using gravel as the substrate and by doing so caused his pets to die. Bichirs may accidentally swallow the tiny pebbles when picking up food, causing fatal blockages.

Lighting

Many species of nocturnal fish, like the Dinosaur Bichir, get startled when the lighting of the room quickly changes from dark to light. These fish may swim around at full speed and hurt themselves, especially when there are plenty of decorations. That said, you may want to get blue LED lighting for your tank.

Also known as moonlights or lunar lighting, these lights make the transition rather easy for your fish. The ambient blue light also simulates natural moonlight, thereby encouraging your nocturnal Bichir to stay more active even during the day.

Tank Mates

Bichirs do not often attack other aquarium fish that are bigger than them widthwise. Thus, they make an excellent addition to a monster community. As a rule, you should only keep fish that share similar water parameters.

Here are excellent tank mates for your Dinosaur Bichir:

  • Gars
  • Bowfin
  • Datnoids
  • Arowana
  • South American Lungfish
  • Queensland Lungfish
  • Large species of Spiny Eels
  • True Eels like Monopterus
  • Large non-predatory catfish
  • Large placid cichlids
  • Large Mormyrids
  • Placid to semi-aggressive knife fish

You may also add two or more Senegal Bichirs. This species is rarely aggressive towards each other. You may also get to see them doing the “poly pile.” Senegal Bichirs feel more secure when they are lying side by side.

Breeding

Females will not be able to breed properly until they are around 5 or 6 years old, but they may still carry undeveloped eggs prior to their maturity. Breeding Senegal Bichirs has not been done much in home aquariums. Should you wish to pursue this, you will need to do it by trial and error.

However, I personally do not recommend breeding this fish whatever your purpose. As mentioned earlier, a small gene pool causes abnormalities to future-generation Dinosaur Bichir.

What are the Spawning Rituals of Senegal Bichirs?

When males are eager to breed, they will flex their anal fin, a behavior called cupping. The male may also follow a female around the aquarium and nudge her repeatedly with his body and cupped anal fin.

If there is a willing female, she will release her eggs for the male to catch and fertilize in his cupped anal fin. The males would then scatter the eggs on a grassy floor when they are about to hatch.

How can You Tell if a Bichir is Male or Female?

First off, females have a thinner, slightly more opaque anal fin with a rounded tailfin tip. Likewise, females tend to be thicker-bodied. They also grow faster than males. Males, on the other hand, have a wider, more muscular anal fin and a pointed tailfin tip.

Conclusion

The Dinosaur Bichir might be the epitome of a hardy, highly adaptable species. But in captivity, this fish will rely on you for everything for the next 10 or 15 years of its life.

Remember:

  • The Dinosaur Bichir uses a lot of muscle to swim; a heavy protein diet is required to meet the high-energy cost of this carnivore
  • Sand is the safest substrate to use; gravel may cause fatal impaction of the digestive tract since this species tend to vacuum their food
  • Floating plants and moonlights help your Dinosaur Bichir feel more at ease with its habitat
  • This obligate breather will die if you deny it access to the water surface; ensure the tank has a tight-fitting lid to prevent escapes
  • You will need a powerful sponge filter to promote aeration and reduce biological wastes
  • The Dinosaur Bichir is an opportunistic feeder that will hunt down smaller fish, but other similarly-sized, non-aggressive monster fish are welcome
  • You can keep a group of Senegal Bichirs in an appropriately sized tank, as they are not aggressive towards each other

As with any species, consistency is the key for your Dinosaur Bichir to live a long, healthy life. Hopefully, you will heed our advice and stay committed to taking care of this wonderful animal.

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