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Ornate Bichir

(Polypterus ornatipinnis)

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 Quick Care Facts

• Care Level: Moderate   • Temperament: Semi-aggressive   • Maximum Size: 24"
• Minimum Tank Size: 90 gallons   • Water Conditions: 75-84° F, KH 1-12, pH 6.5-7.5
• Diet: Carnivore   • Origin: Central Africa   • Family: Polypteridae
• Species: Bichirs   • Aquarium Type: Large-Bottom-Dweller

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Species Information

Ornate Bichir native habitat, distribution, behavior & aquarium compatibility.

Ornate Bichirs are arguable one of the most attractive species of Bichir available within the aquarium hobby. An adult specimen with its unique color pattern and large size can become the center piece of the aquarium. In the wild the Ornate Bichir can be found living in the rivers, lakes, ponds and marshes of Central Africa, where they forage amongst the substrate for small fish, worms, crustaceans and similar meaty foods. They can grow upwards of 2 feet in length in the wild, but generally only grow to about 18 inches in the home aquarium.

They are considered a semi-aggressive species since they will eat fish small enough to fit in their mouths, but will not bother larger fish species. The majority of Ornate Bichirs available within the aquarium hobby are wild caught specimens; however, they do very well in the aquarium environment when provided proper water conditions and aquarium size.

Aquarium Care

How to successfully keep Ornate Bichir in the home aquarium.

An ideal aquarium setup for an adult Ornate Bichir will have a foot print of 6 x 2 feet or larger, a soft sandy substrate and a mixture of smooth rocks, plants and driftwood. Due to the shape of the Ornate Bichir and its swimming habits it is important to provide an aquarium with plenty of depth and length; however, the height of the aquarium can vary quite a bit as it is less important.

Being a nocturnal species, the Ornate Bichir will appreciate areas of the aquarium that are either not brightly lit or are shaded by vegetation or driftwood. Proper tank mates for the Ornate Bichir should be large enough to not be considered food (anything small enough to fit in their mouth), but not so aggressive that they will harass the Bichir.

Most larger semi-aggressive African Cichlids and New World Cichlids to quite well with Bichir, along with large Knife fish, other Bichir species, Synodontis and Datnoides species. Moderate to advanced hobbyists should have no trouble keeping Bichir in their home aquarium, as they are a very hardy species that has been successful in nature for millions of years.

Feeding & Nutrition

How to properly feed Ornate Bichir and provide a healthy diet.

The Ornate Bichir is a carnivorous species that will consume a variety of meaty foods both in the wild and the aquarium environment. Essentially the Ornate Bichir will see any other fish or invertebrate species in the aquarium that are small enough to fit in its mouth as food. However, in order to provide them the vitamins and minerals that they need to support a healthy immune system they should not be fed a diet solely of feeder fish.

A good diet for the Ornate Bichir will have a variety of meaty foods including: earthworms, prawns, mussels, raw shrimp and various types of feeder fish like silver sides and lance fish. Some Bichir have been known to accept commercial meaty pellets and wafers, but generally they do best with live or frozen foods. They should generally be fed one or two times per day an amount of food that they will consume within 5 minutes.

When first added to the aquarium, Bichir are more likely to feed with the aquarium lights off or dimmed as they are a nocturnal species. Being a nocturnal species with poor vision, the Ornate Bichir has developed an excellent sense of smell which they use to locate food in low lighting conditions. Feeding them with the aquarium lights off gives them an advantage over tank mates who use eyesight as a primary method of detecting food.

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