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Bichir - Polypterus Species
Click here now to buy Bichirs.

  This video shows a young Bichir, Polypterus delhezi, about 7" long swimming near a piece of driftwood. Delhezi is one of several Polypterus species that are occasionally available.

  Here is another video of a larger Delhezi Bichir that's about 8" to 9" long and quite a bit thicker than the fish shown above.
Click here to buy Bichir fish from Click here for more information about how to order from us.

Polypterus is the name of a genus of fish, and several members of this genus are listed in the table below. These fish are often called Bichirs after Polypterus bichir, the most common Polypterus species. All Polypterus species are very hardy. They may be shy and hide when first moved to a new aquarium, but they usually adjust to their new home in a few days and then come out of their hiding spot.

Polypterus are air breathing and must be able to swim to the surface of the water to gulp some air. You can often see them release some bubble of air, then they will usually soon return to the surface of the water to swallow another bubble of air. Why do they do this? Probably so they can live in water with low levels of oxygen.


Common Name

Scientific Name

Max. Size

Nile Bichir Polypterus bichir 28"
Delhezi Bichir Polypterus delhezi 14"
Ornate Bichir Polypterus ornatipinnis 15"
Palmas Bichir Polypterus palmas 12"
Weeksi Bichir Polypterus weeksi 16"

Common Name

Scientific Name

Max. Size

See the email from G. A. Christian Bilou near the bottom of this column for more information about the scientific names and maximum sizes of these Bichirs.

Appropriate Home
An aquarium with at least 50 gallons of water, an exterior power filter with a BIO-Wheel, and a maximum of 1/4 inch of gravel. Their aquarium must be completely covered to prevent them from jumping out or other wise escaping. The water temperature should be between 75 and 80 degrees F. Click here for more information about warm water aquariums. Polypterus are very hardy and tolerate a wide range of water conditions. When moved to a new aquarium they will often be shy, and it is important that they have a good cave, where they can hide and feel secure. After acclimating to a new aquarium, they will be less shy and often slowly swim around the aquarium. Polypterus will often go to the surface of the water and gulp a mouthful of air, then return to the bottom of the aquarium, where they release the air several minutes later as a group of bubbles that return to the surface of the water.

Bichir, Polypterus delhezi, at, suppliers of Tropical Fish.   This picture shows a Polypterus delhezi that had eaten about a dozen large size shrimp and looked stuffed!
Ornatipinnis Bichir Polypterus at Click on this picture to see a bigger picture. Here is a nice Ornate Bichir, Polypterus ornatipinnis. Click on each picture to see a bigger picture of the entire body of this fish.
Bichir, Polypterus palmas, at, suppliers of Tropical Fish.   This picture shows a 10" Polypterus palmas, that was hungry and looking for food by swimming back a forth across the bottom of the aquarium.

Recommended Diet
Polypterus species eat large worms, insects, crustaceans like shrimp, and small fish. Click here for more about feeding fish.


Polypterus species will try to catch and eat small fish. So Polypterus must be kept with larger fish, spiny catfish such as Synodontis species, or with fish that can swim fast enough to avoid the Polypterus. Polypterus tend to be nocturnal and hunt for food after the aquarium lights are dimmed. Click here to read more about several other groups of compatible fish.

Picture Gallery of Bichirs
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at
Bichir (Polypterus) fish at

Size and Lifespan
The various species of Polypterus can grow to be too large for most aquariums. The maximum known sizes are given in the table above. Their lifespans are unknown to us, but all Polypterus species probably live for many years. For example, read the comments in the email just below.


Customer Comments

On your Polypterus page, I have noticed a few errors.
Polypterus bichir" is not really an accepted taxon anymore, and should be replaced with "Polypterus endlicheri congicus", the maximum length of which is 40" as opposed to the 28" you have listed.
Polypterus palmas" should be changed to "Polypterus palmas ssp." as there are now three accepted subspecies within the Polypterus palmas complex. Polypterus ornatipinnis is listed as having a maximum length of 15"...this should be amended to 27" (I personally have a female of 21" and a sexed pair at 16").
Maximum lifespans of Polypterus species are only guessed at, but several specimens (most of which were obtained as adults or sub-adults) have exceeded 25 years in captivity, so 30 years is not an unreasonable estimate.
Gulping air is not simply an idiosyncrasy of Polypteridae, but a necessity .... deprived of the opportunity to breach and gulp air, a Polypterus will die.
Polypteridae also possess the ability to leave the water and breathe atmospheric air for several hours, provided that they remain moist.
It should be mentioned that husbandry of Polypteridae must include a secure, heavy lid for the aquarium in which they reside, as their breaching activity can be quite vigorous, and through this, or genuine jumping, they are frequently found outside unsecured aquaria.
Also note that Polypteridae thrive best on sand-bottomed, not gravel, tanks.
G. A. Christian Bilou
Reply. Hello and thank you very much for the additional information about these fish.
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This page was updated on December 20, 2014.