Ornate bichir stats infographicThe Ornate Bichir is one of the most interesting freshwater fish that aquarists can care for in their home aquariums. However, this species of Bichir might prove to be quite a challenge for aquarists who have never cared for a carnivorous fish or who are just starting out their own freshwater tanks.

In this article, you will learn all about the Ornate Bichir and how to care for it. Keep on reading as we tackle everything from this fish’s origins, diet, tank setup, and so much more!

What Is an Ornate Bichir?

The Ornate Bichir is part of the pike family but is distinct due to its lobe-shaped fins, eel-like appearance, and the presence of advanced breathing organs in its body. It’s easy to keep in a species-specific tank and can handle fluctuating water conditions. It makes an interesting addition to aquariums.

Ornate Bichir Stats

Before we discuss how to care for an Ornate Bichir, you need to learn about the common facts and figures that are associated with this type of fish.

Common Name Ornate Bichir
Scientific Name Polypterus Ornatipinnis
Care Level Easy to Moderate
Average Lifespan 10 to 15 years
Maximum Size Up to 18 inches in captivity
Diet Carnivorous
Breeding Type Egg-layer
Minimum Tank Size 90 to 100 gallons

Note that the Ornate Bichir size given above comes in at up to 18 inches; however, in the wild, Ornate Bichir max size has been reported to be a whopping 24 inches in length!

You can also check out this information table on the Ornate Bichir’s taxonomic details.

Order: Polypteriformes
Suborder NA
Family Polypteridae
Genera Polypterus
Species Polypterus Ornatipinnis

Aside from these taxonomic facts, you might also be interested to learn that the Ornate Bichir originated from the river systems of Africa where it would hunt down small and medium-sized fish, or else hide among the vegetation waiting to strike at its next meal.

Ornate bichir the ancient water dragon of contemporary aquariumsIt has a swim bladder that acts as a functioning set of lungs, making it capable of breathing air directly and surviving out of water for a few minutes. The Ornate Bichir is called by different names in the aquarium community; these names include Dinosaur Bichir, Dinosaur Eel, African Dragonfish, and Swamp Dragon.

Ornate Bichir Care

Caring for the Ornate Bichir can be easy for even a beginner aquarist to grasp for as long as you remember these general rules: provide your fish with the largest tank possible, feed it with live prey, and keep its tank as clean and as consistent in terms of water parameters.

– Diet

The Ornate Bichir is a carnivorous fish. It skillfully hunts for its food in the river ecosystems scattered throughout Africa. Furthermore, you should do your best to provide it with clean and live prey as much as possible. Some of the best live food to feed your fish include Bloodworms, Earthworms, Brine Shrimp, Prawns, and small feeder fish.

On the other hand, if you are reluctant to feed your Ornate Bichir with live food, you can always opt to stock on high-quality frozen food. Since this way is cleaner and safer alternative to feeding live food, as the latter can easily introduce parasites and bacteria in your aquarium. Feed your Ornate Bichir once or twice daily, depending on its age, size, and appetite.

– Water Parameters

Now, take a look at the information table given below as it contains the Ornate Bichir’s preferred water parameters. These parameters are meant to be used as guidelines when you set up your own Ornate Bichir tank. Depending on your location’s climate, you may or may not have to use a water heater and other equipment to achieve the parameters detailed below.

Temperature 77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH Level 6.5 to 7.8
Water Hardness 5 to 20 dKH
Light Level Low
Substrate Sand

– Tank Setup

The Ornate Bichir is a large fish that needs an enclosure it can comfortably move and grow in. The minimum Ornate Bichir tank size is 90 gallons. Note that this is the smallest aquarium you can use to house two Ornate Bichirs. If you plan to raise more than two Ornate Bichirs, you will need to provide an additional 30 gallons per fish.

Aside from providing an aquarium with enough space, you also need to consider the substrate and inclusions of your Ornate Bichir tank. You should place soft sand, measuring at least two to three inches deep in the aquarium, moreover, place a few rock formations or wood debris in the tank. Avoid placing plants that are delicate or easy to uproot as Ornate Bichirs are known for making a mess out of such flora.

– Lifespan

The Ornate Bichir has an average lifespan of about 10 to 15 years in captivity. However, a full grown Ornate Bichir can arguably live longer in the wild, especially if there is an abundance of food and hardly any threat to its safety.

– Common Diseases

The Ornate Bichir is a rather hardy species, but it may still fall ill if it is placed under constant or unbearable stress. A stressed Ornate Bichir becomes an ideal host for parasitic and bacterial infections. That said, you should have over-the-counter medications for stress management as well as quick remedies for the most common fish infections.

Some of the common parasites that easily affect Ornate Bichirs are flukes that affect the intestine and gills, and tapeworms. These parasites can usually be treated with medications that you will find in your local fish store.

However, you need to be caution when you use such chemicals in your Ornate Bichirs’ tank. Consider decreasing the dosage of medications that are formalin-based or that contain methylene blue and malachite green by half. This should help you begin treating the aforementioned parasitic infections without shocking your fish.

However, you should have a quarantine tank ready, because this will help you isolate any of your Ornate Bichirs that might not be feeling well enough to mingle in a large community tank or just needs their own space to recover from infections or other forms of sicknesses.

Tank Mates

The Ornate Bichir does best on its own or in a species-specific tank. However, if you plan to keep your Ornate Bichir in a community tank with other fish and aquatic creatures, you will need to learn which ones are safe to include and which ones you should avoid.

– Ideal Tank Mates

Some of the best tankmates for the Ornate Bichir are the Oscars, Cichlids, Jack Dempseys, and the larger species of loaches. As might have noticed, all of these recommended tank mates range from medium to large in size. These fish are also known for their aggression and being able to hold their own when it comes to territorial fights and the competition for food.

If you are committed to raising your fish in a community tank, be sure to provide each of them with enough space that they won’t feel threatened or that they need to defend their piece of aquarium real estate all the time.

– Tank Mates To Avoid

Do not introduce your fish to a community tank with lots of small fish and crustaceans. Such aquarium members will only trigger the hunting instincts of your Ornate Bichir, and it is highly probable that your tank will suffer a number of fatalities. Avoid housing small Tetras, Rasboras, Goldfish, shrimp, and snails with your fish.


Like other Bichir species, the Ornate Bichir is not the easiest fish to breed in a home aquarium setup. The problem is that there is very limited information on breeding Ornate Bichirs in captivity despite the fact that they have been around for a long time.

However, if you still want to try your luck at breeding your own Ornate Bichirs, you can set up a separate breeding tank and encourage your fish to mate and spawn. Note that the information provided below is meant for experimental purposes and does not guarantee that your Ornate Bichirs will breed successfully in your home setup.

– Pre Breeding Care

You will first need to identify which of your Ornate Bichirs are male, and which ones are female. If you have more than five of them in your tank, you should be able to pick out an adult male and female that you can turn into your breeding pair. The males tend to have wider but smaller bodies than their female counterparts.

Once you have successfully selected your breeding pair, introduce them to the breeding tank, nonetheless the tank should have water that is both acidic and soft. You can also make the water temperature warmer than what your Ornate Bichirs are used to in the main tank.

If successfully triggered to mate and spawn, the female Ornate Bichir should begin depositing her first batch of eggs 24 to 48 hours afterward. Remove the breeding pair from the tank to prevent them from feeding on the clutches of eggs in your aquarium.

– Post Breeding Care

Ornate bichirShould the Ornate Bichir eggs hatch, give yourself a quick pat on the back, then get ready for the real challenge: raising the fry into adults. You might be able to do this by providing the Ornate Bichir fry with infusoria and other microparticles for food. You can then feed them progressively larger pieces of food as they grow in age and size.


There’s certainly a lot to know about the Ornate Bichir. Here are the key points we covered in this article.

  • The Ornate Bichir is an eel-like freshwater fish that has fin-shaped lobes and a strong swim bladder.
  • This fish can grow up to 18 inches in captivity; that said, they need to be housed in large aquariums.
  • The Ornate Bichir is a carnivorous fish that will readily accept live or frozen food.
  • This fish may be housed with similarly large fish, but it should not be kept with smaller species of fish and aquarium creatures.
  • It is challenging to breed Ornate Bichirs in a home aquarium setup.

While the Ornate Bichir might look intimidating, you should be able to provide it with the utmost care as long as you remember the things we tackled in this care guide.

5/5 - (17 votes)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here