Species group: Bichirs/Reedfish
Other common names:
Scientific name: Polypterus ornatipinnis
The Ornate Bichir is an eel-like fish which is native to slow moving, heavily vegetated waters in Lake Tanganyika and the Congo River basin in Central and East Africa. The Ornate Bichir uses its sense of smell for hunting, as it is does not have great vision. To enhance smell, it has external nostrils which protrude from the nose. The Ornate Bichir has a modified swim bladder that allows it to gulp air from the surface of the water periodically, thus functioning as a lung. It is interesting to watch it dash to the surface in an aquarium for breathing. A distinctive feature of this fish is that it can remain out of water for nearly indefinite periods of time, if the skin stays moist.
The only impediment is its speed. The pectoral fins let it cruise very slowly. Even its best spurts of speed do not let it catch fish of average speed.
The Ornate Bichir has an elongated body, and has a yellow and black pattern. Typical of the polypterids, a serrated dorsal fin extends along its body up to the caudal fin. The pectoral fins are found just behind the gill openings and are responsible for the Bichir's locomotion. This lends the fish a slow and graceful appearance.
Bichirs are predatory by nature. They will not spare any live or dead animal that can be swallowed or torn apart. However, with time and opportunity, smaller fish will eventually be eaten. Thus, fish smaller than 3 inches do not make good tank mates.
The tank should have a minimum size of 50 gallons. For bigger fish, 80 gallons is advisable. The tank is decorated with rocks and bogwood. Bichirs may accidentally swallow gravel while feeding. To prevent this, a sand substrate may be provided. The height of the tank is not as important as the floor space, which should be plentiful. However, there should be a gap at the top allowing the fish to gulp air. These fish can escape quite easily. Hence, the aquarium has a secure lid. If allowed to escape, the fish will go quite a long distance before drying out and dying.