Polypterus aka Bichirs – Profile and Photos

Polypterus is a genus of freshwater fish in the bichir family (family Polypteridae) of the order Polypteriformes. They live in various areas in Africa, including the Nile and the Congo Rivers. They are often called Dinosaur fish or Dinosaur Eels even though this is not a correct name for them. The Bichir family is quite large, over a dozen specific species are known along with a few sub species as well. They also vary slightly by region so some Aquarists will define them by region as well as species. They are all long, snake like fish with strong armor and the ability to breathe air. We are doing one main profile for all the Bichir species, then listing all the specific species below.

Scientific Name – Polypterus

Common Name – Bichir, Polypterus, Dinosaur Fish, Dinosaur Eel

Potential Size –  Species dependent. 10″-30″

Diet – They are carnivorous predators. They will eat sinking pellets such as Hikari Carnivore, NLS 10mm pellets or Hikari Massivore. They also enjoy fish, shrimp, and other meat based items.

Temperament – They make good bottom dwellers for larger predatory based tanks. They can bite and nip other fishes as well as eat smaller tank mates. So choose wisely when adding tank mates. We have had success with large Cichlids and Catfish. Always remember if the Bichir can fit it into its mouth, it is a possible meal.

Tank Requirements – A large tank for most species. There are a few smaller species such as Senegalus which will do well in a 100 gallon or larger tank but most of them get much to large for a standard tank. A custom or non standard tank will eventually be required, something at least 6′ x 3′ or so. They also enjoy resting under/on logs and plants, so give them so cover if possible.

Tank Terror Notes – The Bichir family is one of the most interesting fish families out there. They are all very similar but the patterns that define them are quite unique. They have been bred in Aquaria but it is not at all common. Make sure your lid is secured well if you keep any Bichir species. They are known escape artists and will jump out of even the smallest gap, trust me, it’s happened to us. They can live outside of water for a little while due to the air breathing ability they possess but it isn’t that long, so just make sure your lid is tight and has no gaps. There are also long fin, albino and short body variants.

Polypterus/Bichir Species & Subspecies List with maximum sizes, although maximum size is rarely seen in captivity.

Upper Jaw species, upper jaw protrudes past the lower jaw.

  • Polypterus mokelembembe (Mokèlé-mbèmbé bichir) 12″+
  • Polypterus delhezi  (Barred bichir) 14″
  • Polypterus ornatipinnis  (Ornate bichir) 28″
  • Polypterus retropinnis (West African bichir) 14″
  • Polypterus teugelsi (Cross River bichir) 16″
  • Polypterus weeksii (Mottled bichir) 20″
  • Polypterus palmas(Shortfin bichir)
    • Polypterus palmas buettikoferi (Buettikofer’s bichir) 13″
    • Polypterus palmas palmas (Shortfin bichir) 13″
    • Polypterus palmas polli (Poll’s bichir) 13″
  • Polypterus senegalus(Gray bichir)
    • Polypterus senegalus meridionalis 13″
    • Polypterus senegalus senegalus 12″
  • Erpetoichthys calabaricus (Reedfish or Ropefish) 15-30″

Lower Jaw Species, the lower jar protrudes past the upper.

  • Polypterus ansorgii (Guinean bichir) 30″
  • Polypterus bichir
    • Polypterus bichir bichir  (Nile bichir) 30″
    • Polypterus bichir lapradei 20″
  • Polypterus endlicheri
    • Polypterus endlicheri congicus (Congo bichir) 38″
    • Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri  (Saddled bichir) 32″


Group of Bichirs. (Closest is a Weeksii Bichir, behind him is an Ornate Bichir and in the back is an Endlicheri Bichir)

Polypterus retropinnis or Retropinnis Bichir, tucked away in some driftwood

Palmas Polli Bichir

Delhezi Bichir aka Polypterus Delhezi.

Up close and personal with Polypterus Ornatipinnis aka Ornate Bichir

Polypterus Palmas Polli swimming above Polypterus Lapradei, on the left is a Senegalus.

Pictured is a Polypterus Senegalus, by far the most common seen Bichir. It is also one of the smaller species.

Pictured is a Polypterus Endicheri Endlicheri, this specific one is an oddball known as a “Spoonhead”. Notice the spoon shaped head on this guy, not the normal head shape.

If you have photos of any Bichirs we are missing here we’d love to share them. This includes Ansorgii, Congicus, Mokelembembe, Teugelsi, and any of the other variants we haven’t posted.


  • Matthew V says:

    I just purchaces my baby albino bichir from my lfs and upon getting it home and put in my tank i noticed that it has no front fins. The little nubs are there but no fin. will they grow back?

    • TankTerrors says:

      I doubt they will grow back fully if at all but it will probably be just fine either way. Bichirs are not exactly big swimmers and the tail will still provide plenty of power for him/her to swim when needed.

  • Marina says:

    I have had my bichir for a few weeks now and his tail has started drooping. He still gets really excited when he knows it is eating time but otherwise he doesn’t look great. Could he have swim bladder? I have been feeding him freeze dried bloodworms and he seems to love them. Can you offer any advice?

    • TankTerrors says:

      They are not very active fish outside of feeding time. If it is eating alright then you most likely are fine. Sorry for the late reply. Also check water quality and do water changes as needed, it always helps. -TT

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