HomeAquarium FishDinosaur Bichir - Care, Lifespan, Size, & More!

Dinosaur Bichir – Care, Lifespan, Size, & More!

The Dinosaur Bichir is a remarkable and distinctive freshwater fish that lends an incredibly archaic touch to your aquarium. Undoubtedly, it’s one of our favorite freshwater fishes, and for a good reason.

To be precise, several variations are available, each exhibiting unique colors and patterns, presenting you with many options to choose from.

But before you add one of these ancient-looking fishes to your collection, it’s important to understand how to maintain their well-being and contentment. And this is where our guide comes in handy.

Here, you’ll gain comprehensive insights into Dinosaur Bichir care and everything you must know about this fish, including tank size, diet, tank mates, and much more. So, let’s dive in!

Overview: Dinosaur Bichirs

Dinosaur Bichirs, scientifically known as Polypterus bichir, are a remarkable freshwater fish species with a rich history dating back to prehistoric times. They belong to the Polypteridae family and are commonly found in the Nile River and its surrounding tributaries in Northeast Africa.

Their unique build allows them to thrive in shallow, swampy waters and semi-brackish environments, which is partly responsible for their unchanged appearance over time.

Due to the murky waters they inhabit, Bichirs have poor eyesight and rely on other senses to navigate and find food.

They have an extraordinary sense of smell and can detect electrical signals in the water using their ampullae of Lorenzini.

This sensory organ can pick up other animals’ electrical fields. This adaptation makes them well-equipped to hunt in their natural habitat.

One of the most interesting features of bichirs is their ability to breathe air with a pair of lungs, which allows them to survive in poorly oxygenated waters.

Their lungs differ from those of other fish, resembling more of a sac than a tissue mass. This design is essential in their swampy habitat, where breathing underwater is often challenging.

Determining the sex of a bichir can be quite challenging due to its appearance, which can lead to uncertainty during the buying process. However, unless you plan to breed them, this should be fine.

Overall, bichirs are a fascinating addition to any freshwater aquarium, with their unique build and ancient history adding a prehistoric feel to your tank.


Bichirs are known for their longevity, with an average lifespan of 10-15 years. However, with proper care and good genetics, they have the potential to live up to 20 years!

The conditions they are held in can immensely influence their lifespan, so it is critical to provide them with the best possible care to ensure a healthy life.

As an attentive owner, you must make all the difference in the lifespan of your bichir. Providing a healthy diet, suitable tank conditions, and regular health monitoring can help maximize their lifespan.

With dedication and effort, you can enjoy the company of your bichir for many years to come.

Natural Habitat

Dinosaur bichirs are fascinating in over 26 African countries, including Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal. They are commonly called Senegal bichirs due to their presence in Senegal’s waters.

In their natural environment, these fish inhabit the shallows of slow-moving and tropical freshwater lakes, floodplains, and swamps.

To maintain optimal health, these fish prefer a water temperature range between 75-82° F (24-28° C) and a neutral pH level between 6.2 and 7.8. Moreover, they tend to thrive in softer water.

Dinosaur bichirs have adapted to their natural habitat, typically murky with low visibility, by evolving a remarkable sense of smell. Despite their poor eyesight, they can detect electrical currents through the water, enabling them to locate their prey, such as smaller fish.

Although their lifespan in the wild is uncertain, if you are a careful aquarium owner providing excellent care and maintaining ideal water conditions, these Bichirs may live up to 30 years in captivity.

Therefore, creating an aquarium setup that closely replicates their natural habitat is crucial to ensure optimal health and longevity.



Dinosaur Bichirs are fascinating creatures that are easily recognizable due to their ancient dinosaur-like appearance. Despite being one of the smallest species of Polypterus, they can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) long.

These fish have a gray/beige body with random darker blotches and a long, serrated dorsal fin that they can fully extend or lay flush on their back. They also have two pectoral fins that help them move around the bottom of the aquarium where they live.

One interesting fact about dinosaur bichirs is that they have adapted to breathe air and can stay out of the water for short periods as long as they remain moist. However, they can drown if cut off from an oxygen supply. This unique ability likely evolved to help them survive in murky waters with low oxygen levels.

Dinosaur bichirs have a modified swim bladder, which helps them maintain buoyancy in the water. They have formed primitive lungs, so you may often see them swimming to the water’s surface to gulp air before returning to the bottom of the tank.

Lastly, these fish have incredibly armored skin, which has been studied for creating better protective armor with increased mobility. If you decide to get a dinosaur bichir for your aquarium, provide them with a suitable environment that mimics their natural habitat for optimal health and happiness.

Types Of Bichir

Various species of bichirs can be kept in aquariums, each with unique colors and sizes. While dinosaur bichirs are one of the more common species due to their manageable size, you may also want to consider other species for your tank.

  • Ornate Bichir: The Ornate Bichir, for instance, is a stunning species with striking black and yellow patterns. It is also among the largest species of bichirs, potentially reaching 24 inches (60 cm). 
  • Saddled Bichirs: Saddled Bichirs, on the other hand, have a longer lower jaw than their upper jaw and can grow up to 30 inches (76 cm) long. They are white or yellow with irregular vertical bands across their body and are available in albino or platinum varieties.
  • Barred Bichir or Delhezi Bichir: Another popular species is the Barred Bichir or Delhezi Bichir. It is a more common bichir species available for purchase and can grow to a size of 12-15 inches (30-28 cm) long. The Delhezi Bichir is similar to the dinosaur bichir but has distinct dark patterns against its grey body.
  • Albino Bichir: If you come across an Albino Bichir while shopping for fish for your tank, note that it is actually an albino dinosaur bichir. These bichirs have fully white bodies and pink or red eyes.

Dinosaur Bichir Care

Caring for bichir fish is a manageable task, but it requires a level of awareness. The good news is that these fish are robust and adaptable.

The range of water conditions they can tolerate is generous, so even a moderately experienced aquarist should be able to keep them healthy. However, certain behavioral and dietary factors make their care more demanding.

Overall, we believe that bichir care falls somewhere in the moderate range regarding difficulty. If you follow our recommendations, you should be able to provide your bichir with the care it needs.

also Read: Gertrude Fish – Overview, Behavior, Diet, & More!

Tank Requirements

Due to their natural habitat and living conditions, dinosaur bichirs are an extremely resilient fish species. Nevertheless, it is crucial to consider that bichirs are capable escape artists and can grow very large in size.

This means that not only is an aquarium lid necessary but also ensuring that there is enough space between the water surface and the tank cover for bichirs to breathe.

Given their large size, it is recommended that a minimum tank size of 90 gallons (341 L) is provided for dinosaur bichirs.

Many fish keepers keep small bichirs in a 40-gallon (151 L) tank to upgrade later. However, this is not advisable as upgrading an aquarium can be challenging and may leave your bichir without a proper home.

Bichirs typically spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, so they must use a gentle substrate on their skin. A sandy substrate is ideal for these fish.

Also, driftwood can be added to the aquarium for bichirs to hide under, although they do not seem too particular about the tank’s decor.

Water Parameters

In order to ensure the longevity and happiness of your dinosaur bichir, it is crucial to maintain an optimal environment for them.

One of the most practical methods to achieve this is by imitating the natural water conditions they experience in the wild.

Keeping an equatorial water temperature between 75-82° F (24-28° C), a pH level varying from 6.2 to 7.8, and a KH between 5 to 20 dKH is essential for the well-being of your dinosaur bichir.

Although dinosaur bichirs are known for their hardiness and low maintenance, keeping their water parameters stable is still important.

Regular partial water changes on a weekly or biweekly basis can ensure that the water quality remains consistent and nutrient levels are kept in check.

Adding fresh water while removing any build-up of waste creates a healthier environment for your fish to thrive in.

Behavior Of Dinosaur Bichir

While Dinosaur Bichirs are considered one of the more peaceful species within their genus, it’s important to note that they are still carnivores and can be aggressive towards smaller fish. Therefore, they should never be housed with potential prey that they may attack and consume.

Despite their predatory nature, these fish are very active swimmers for their size, using their pectoral fins to propel themselves along the tank bottom and occasionally swimming to the surface to breathe. This behavior makes them engaging bottom-dweller that is not just confined to hiding.

Bichirs are also nocturnal creatures, meaning they are more active at night in search of food. However, with some gradual acclimation, it is possible to train them to be more active during the day as well.

Tank Mates

When it comes to finding suitable tank mates for your bichir, the key factor is managing your fish companions’ size and potential for aggression. 

As previously mentioned, bichirs are carnivores and can exhibit aggression, making it important to avoid any smaller species. Smaller fish can be picked on or even eaten!

On the other hand, choosing larger fish as bichir tank mates is a much safer bet. This way, your bichir won’t confuse their tank mates with food, and they won’t be bullied due to their size. 

Some examples of compatible species include Oscar fish, flower horn cichlids, African knife fish, clown loaches, jack Dempsey fish, and silver dollar fish.

Another crucial consideration is whether or not your tank mates will allow food to reach the bottom of the tank. 

Bichirs spend most of their time on the bottom of the tank, so they must have access to food, and without it, they can become malnourished, leading to health issues or increased aggression.


Bichirs are a predatory species, and their diet should consist of high-protein food to ensure good health.

This can make them more challenging to care for than other freshwater fish that typically thrive on fish flakes and pellets.

Some bichir owners have found success in supplementing their diet with cichlid pellets.

In order to furnish a well-balanced diet, bichirs require a variety of living, frozen, and freeze-dried food, such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, earthworms, and small fish.

Although dinosaur bichirs are naturally nocturnal, training them to eat at different times is possible.

If you want to adjust their feeding schedule, start by offering food shortly after the tank lights go out and gradually adjust the feeding time each day until they accept food at a suitable hour.

However, allowing them to feed at their natural nocturnal feeding time is still best.

It’s also essential to note that bichirs don’t have good eyesight, and sinking food into the center of the tank is usually enough for them to locate it, as they rely on their sense of smell to detect food in the water.


Breeding dinosaur bichirs in a home aquarium is considered to be extremely rare and difficult, with very little information available on how to achieve it.

Despite this, professional breeders have achieved successful breeding, but the details of the process still need to be discovered.

Interestingly, some information about breeding dinosaur bichirs in the wild has been gathered, providing insight into their behavior.

These fish are known to breed during the rainy season, with lower pH levels and changing water temperatures thought to stimulate spawning. During this time, male bichirs will chase and gently nudge the female in an attempt to mate.

If successful, the female will deposit her eggs randomly on the tank’s bottom. However, removing the adult bichirs from the tank at this point is important, as they are likely to eat the eggs.

After three to four days, the eggs will hatch, and the tiny bichir fry will emerge.

Baby bichirs are believed to have limited mobility, so closely monitoring their feeding habits is crucial. Their diet should consist primarily of brine shrimp and micro worms.

Buying Dinosaur Bichir

Given the difficulty of breeding dinosaur bichirs in a home tank, most of these fish you’ll find in pet stores are likely to have been caught in the wild. This means that they can pose a threat of infections and parasites to other fish in your tank.

It’s best to quarantine the bichir for a few weeks to ensure it’s healthy and not introduce external threats to your other fish.

While juvenile dinosaur bichirs may look manageable in a pet store tank, it’s important to remember that these fish can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) and live up to 30 years.

Therefore, ensuring your tank is large enough and properly set up to accommodate a bichir is crucial.

Once you’re confident that you have the right conditions for a bichir, the next step is selecting a healthy specimen.

Don’t hesitate to ask the store staff to show you the bichir eating, as this will indicate its appetite and the type of food it accepts.


For those seeking a unique freshwater fish species with a prehistoric appearance, a dinosaur bichir is an option.

While they require a specific tank setup and water conditions that are relatively easy to provide, their large adult size, long lifespan, particular diet, and limited options for compatible tank mates make them more specialized fish to maintain.

Providing a soft substrate and maintaining stable water parameters are key to ensuring your pet dinosaur bichir lives a healthy and long life.

If you have any inquiries about keeping or personal experience with this fish species in your tank, please leave a comment below.

Fishkeeping Expert
Fishkeeping Expert
With years of collective fishkeeping knowledge, we are pleased to share the tank maintenance tips and fish care advice we've picked up along the way. Fishkeeping Expert is home to all fishkeeping tutorials and guides that will help you keep your fish healthy.


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