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Polypterid/Bichir Factoids

Origin

Africa , mostly Congo River basin

Maximum Size

Varies by species – 12 to 24 inches

Longevity

10 years

Housing

Bigger the better

Security

Likes tunnels, caves, pipes

Temperature

Prefers 75o to 85o

Attitude

Nocturnal at first.  Good eater.

Foods

Loves live foods and meaty foods

Tank Mates

Eats smaller fish.  Bites slow fish.

Water

Needs clean water with bit of salt

Breeding

Don’t buy any cigars

LA
Polypterus retropinnis.
 

Quintin Golka, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, October 24, 2008
Hello, I was looking at your web page on Bichirs/Polypterids, and I came across a few errors. You have a few different species all labeled as retropinnis, including P. senegalus, and P. bichir lapradei. Also, you have a P. b. lapradei mislabeled as a palmas. The Bichir with the caption "Definitely Polypterus delhezi," is definitely not a P. delhezi! Whoever sold you it was correct, it is P. weeksii, or the fathead bichir. Its head is only really noticeably fatter when it reaches maturity. The picture with the caption stating "Under two-inch ornatipinnis...," is actually a small Senegal Bichir. Ornates have the black and white pattern their entire life. Also, there are some errors in the paragraphs:
Origin: Some people do breed senegal and delhezi bichirs for retail... this is why they are so commonly available and why they cost less. The Japanese people have bred almost every kind of polypterid.
Water Conditions: Polypterids are fully freshwater fish, and adding any salt to the water is completely unnecessary. It may help prevent infections, but other than that it is unneeded.
Size: The smallest Bichir is P. senegalus at 12", the largest is P. endlicheri congicus at circa 39".
Not Schoolers: All I can say to this entire paragraph is that it is untrue. 90% of the time. If you put more than one Bichir in a tank, they won't bother each other, and may even lay around together. I have three Bichirs and three Ropefish in a tank with no problems whatsoever.
Breeding: Yes, they often do breed in captivity, although most of the time if a male and female are present, the female will release eggs and the male is too oblivious to come and fertilize them. It is uncommon for anyone to get Bichir larvae.
Foods: Everyone who has kept Bichirs as pets will tell you the best way to feed them is to starve them until they take pellets, which usually doesn't take very long. Polypterids are extremely un-fussy fish and their hunger will quickly overrun their stubbornness.
Substrate Choice: They do change colour with the substrate. To see the natural colours, a black or pink (surprisingly) substrate works the best.
Plants: Most of the time, they are very careful fish, and only rip out plants because of their immense size and clumsiness.
That seems to be it... And let me just say that your site is absolutely amazing... and I'm pretty sure I've read every single article on it! Keep up the amazing work!

A:  Whew!  Thanks for taking the time to make the corrections.  I've put a "Temporary Patch" on my bichir page.  I'll eventually weave in all your corrections.  LA

Chuck Estes, Spokane, WA, May 19, 2009
On your bichir page there was something you forgot to mention. The beggars are loaded for bear with personality and highly addictive.

 

A:  I'll add your comments to the page.  LA

LA
Polypterus senegalus -- the most economical and most available bichir.

LA
Only 9 inches, this palmas looked much bigger in the bag.

LA
Looks like a rope fish in the face, but heftier in the body.
  Good-sized mouth.  Tiny teeth.

LA
Three-inch P. senegalus, probably the runt of their tribe.  Not too expensive.  Grows to one foot.

Origins:  Like most African fishes (except cichlids and killies), no fish farmers rear polypterids.  They are all captured from the Congo River basin.  No one breeds them on purpose.

Nocturnal (sort of):  Most polypterids work the night shift.  Start feeding them in the evenings – not on your way to work.  Change their schedule as they adjust to their new home.   They soon adapt to your schedule.  If you feed them during the day, they come out during the day.

LA
His mottled colors enable him to blend into natural gravels.

 

Water Conditions:  Although they come from soft acid water originally, your polypterids adapt to most water conditions.  Just keep their water clean.  Add one teaspoon of salt per gallon.

LA
Polypterus ornatapinnis certainly catch your eye.

LA
under 2-inch ornatapinnis -- not too prepossessing.

Appeal:  Most aquarists like polypterids for their unusual shape.  Others like some of the species for their attractive coloration and finnage.  Some like them for their scarcity.  Others like to watch them eat like little piggies.  You gotta like them or you won’t front their hefty tab.

LA
Very attractive finnage on all the polypterids.  Why aren't these guys called "dragons?"

Size:   In aquariums, you’ll grow yours as large as two feet long, depending upon the species.  They need plenty of room.

LA Pic
Heading to the top for air or to bail?

Air Breathers:  Polypterids breathe air from the surface.  They absorb their O2 thru their specialized intestines (guts).  This enables them to survive in warm or crummy waters that would kill gilled fishes.  They are real survivors.  They undoubtedly patrol the low oxygen warm shallows and may crawl out of the water in search of tasty edibles.

LA
If he's sniffing at the top, make sure he's covered.

Jumpers:  Like most snake-shaped fishes, polypterids insist on bailing out if given any openings in your tank cover.  Maybe they’re looking for food on the bank of the Congo River by instinct?  In any event, they cannot help themselves.  Keep them well covered.

LA
Mixed with a three-inch ornatapinnis, this three-inch goldfish and his buddies came out losers.

Biters:  Polypterids bite the heck out of slow-moving, long-finned fishes -- no matter what size.  Faster guys such as barbs and cichlids make much better tank mates than goldfish or bettas.  

LA
Polypterus ornatapinnis also like to bite each other.

LA
Best not to mix these rascals, even when small.

LA
Young ones tolerate each other.  Sold to us as P. palmas.  Definitely not marbled.

LA
Absolutely not Polypterus palmas.  Probably P. senagalus.

LA
Put a dozen Polypterus senegalus together and they do mix.

LA
Albino bichir.  Probably Polypterus senegalus.  New to us 02-24-04.  We'll get more pics.

LA
Water still not clean enough.  We'll get a better picture.

LA
Better?  Algae on glass does not help.

LA
Better?

LA
Group shot

LA
Not an albino but sure looks like one.

LA
This polypterus senegalus IS an albino.  Still (March, 2005) pricey.

Not Schoolers:  Unlike their cousins the ropefish, polypterids do not get along with their own kind or even with close relatives.  They want to fight unless crowded.    They get along fairly well with other larger fishes.  They love smaller tasty fishes like tetras.  Or pieces of any slow-moving fish.

 

Breeding:  Polypterids do not breed in captivity.

LA
Not a good mix here.  Hope the bumblebee doesn't hurt him.

LA
Polypterids can and do eat fish.



LA
Chomp.  Worms are always appreciated by Polypterus ornatapinnis.

Foods:   Forget flakes and pellets.  If your polypterids looks like he’s starting a hunger strike, toss in some hard-to-see feeder ghost shrimps.  He’ll find them when the lights get dim.  He’ll also eat most frozen foods and loves live worms of all types.  Eventually, bichirs learn to eat pellets.

LA
Three-inch P. ornatapinnis.  Most beautiful and pricey.  Grows to two feet.  Needs lots of room.

Substrate Choice:  They seem to maintain the same color no matter what substrate you use.  Sand of a contrasting color works well.

LA
Polypterids dig up your substrate.  Big ones can do a real job on a planted aquarium.

LA
That's a one-inch filter tube and a four-inch rocket gar.  Polypterids do like a good fish dinner.

Plants:  These guys like to roil your substrate – probably looking for food.  Forget rooted plants.  Java lance fern anchored to wood works great.

Hiding Places:  Give them some caves to hide in at first.  They prefer to stay out of the light during the day.  At the very least, toss in some pieces of PVC pipe.  They need a hideout the most when they’re small. 

Disease:  You’ll unlikely encounter any diseases.  Don’t forget that one teaspoon of salt per gallon.

LA
Sold to us as a flathead polypterus.  No flatter than the others.  Looks like P. delhezi.

LA
Sold to us as polypterus delhezi.  Small but expensive.

LA
Definitely Polypterus delhezi.

Filtration:  Polypterids like clean water.   Do not overfeed.  Add snails to clean up the excess.  They also like to eat small snails.

LA
Polypterus senegalus.

LA
Polypterus retropinnis

LA
Polypterus ornatapinnis.

LA
Retropinnis "hiding."

 

Adam Forshey, February 10, 2008
Hello, I emailed you a while ago with some questions. Now, I'd just like to point something out. I believe that on your bichir page you have a fish incorrectly marked. You have it marked as a retropinnis, but it is actually a lapradei. The main way you can tell is the difference in the jaw. A retropinnis is an upper jaw species of polypterus, while a lapradei is a lower jaw. The main difference between upper and lower jaw is that the lower jaws tend to be much larger, and are thought to be more primitive.
Upper Jaw:
P. Senegalus Senegalus
P. Senegalus Meriodonalis
P. Delhezi
P. Ornatippinnis
P. Palmas Palmas
P. Palmas Polli
P. Palmas Buettikoferi
P. Weeksii
P. Teugelsi
P. Mokelembembe
P. Retropinnis Retropinnis
P. Retropinnis Lowei
Lower Jaw:
P. Endlicheri Endlicheri
P. Endlicheri Congicus
P. Ansorgii
P. Bichir Bichir
P. Bichir Lapradei
P. Bichir Katangae

Also, there is of course the ropefish. Thanks, and as always, keep up the great work. Your site is probably my favorite for fish info!

A:  Uff da.  You know, you could have given me more info then I can handle.  However, I'll add it to my bichir page.  Thanks.  LA

LA
Retropinnis with dorsal down.

LA
Retropinnis loafing.

LA
Albino Senegals checking out the food supply and each other.

LA
Retropinnis with a really big mouth.

LA
This guy really, really loves goldfish.

Last Word:  Polypterids make intriguing specimen fishes.  They’re not for everyone.  They do cost more than other fishes.  And they like to eat other fish.  LA.

More pics, February 15:

LA
4-inch
Polypterus lapredi.

LA
Same guy -- different light.

LA
1.5-inch Polypterus ornatapinnis.  For more info go to
Polypterids

LA
3-inch Polypterus
teugelsi.

LA
Ditto.

LA
3-inch Polypterus delhezi.

LA
3-inch Polypterus senegalus.

LA
Ditto.

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