Senegal Bichir 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates, & More

If you’re in the market for a new fish tank and interested in adding a Senegal Bichir to your collection, you should know a few things first.

As one of the most common Polypterus in aquariums, this fish is known for its unique appearance and peaceful behavior. Senegal Bichirs can live in a wide range of water parameters and can grow to a relatively large size in captivity, making them a great choice for community aquariums. However, they are known to try to eat anything that fits in their mouths, so it is important to be aware of this when choosing tank mates.

This article will cover everything you need to know about caring for a Senegal Bichir.

Species Summary

Senegal Bichir
Senegal Bichir

The Senegal Bichir (Polypterus senegalensis) is a species of tropical freshwater Bichir belonging to the Polypteridae family. These fish are well distributed through Africa, occurring in at least 26 African countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and Zambia, among others. They usually inhabit places with still water, such as shallow waters, swamps, marshes, and freshwater ponds.

These fish are relatively common among those who keep primitive fish, and most specimens are collected in the wild. 

Senegal Bichir Care Guide

The Senegal Bichir requires a few specific conditions in their tank, but they are relatively easy to care for. With a little research and preparation, you can provide your new fish with everything they need to thrive.

Tank Size

These fish can grow to be pretty big, so it’s important to have a tank that’s large enough to accommodate them.

A large aquarium over 50 gallons is a good starting point, with dimensions of at least 40″ x 15″ x 18″. Of course, the more space you can give them, the better. They’ll be happier and healthier in a large tank that allows them to move around freely.

Tank Mates

These fish are peaceful by nature and can coexist with other animals of similar size and behavior. Some of the best Senegal Bichir tankmates include other Bichir species, Synodontis, Datnoides, Knife Fish, Peacock Bass, Viejas Cichlid, and Gouramis

Just be sure to avoid any overly aggressive or larger species that could injure your Senegal Bichir, and also avoid any smaller species that could become food for your animal.

Same Species Tanks

Senegal Bichir is a peaceful species that is often found in groups in the wild. They are a great choice for a single species tank or for a biotope aquarium, where you can recreate their natural habitat.

Water Parameters

These fish are incredibly hardy and can tolerate extreme conditions. The ideal temperature for Senegal Bichir is 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with a pH range of 6.0 to 8.0 and a hardness of 0 to 20 dH.

Since they’re so adaptable, Senegal Bichir is a great choice for anyone looking for a low-maintenance fish for their aquarium. 

What to Put in Their Tank

You will need an aquarium heater and a filtering system. The Senegal Bichir is an aquatic animal, so it is essential to have these two things in order to keep the Bichir healthy. 

The filtration system must be well-sized and create a low flow. This is because the Senegal Bichir is a fantastic jumper and could easily jump out of the tank if the flow is too high. The lid of the tank should also be fixed securely to prevent any escapees.

As far as their tank is concerned, the Senegal Bichir is not a fussy fish. They don’t require a lot of decoration in their tank, but it’s always a good idea to try and replicate their natural habitat as much as possible.

A soft sand substrate, some rocks and driftwood, and plenty of hiding places will do the trick. Just make sure there are plenty of open areas for them to swim around.

Common Diseases

These fish are incredibly disease-resistant, so as long as you keep the quality of the water and the tank always in optimal conditions and give them a good quality diet, your fish should not present any problem. 

Food and Diet

One of the most unique things about the Senegal Bichir is their diet. They are omnivorous, which means they will eat both plants and animals. They primarily eat fish, insects, and frogs in their natural habitat. However, they will also consume plant matter and detritus. Their diet will depend on what is available to them in their natural environment.

The Senegal Bichir is not picky in an aquarium and will easily accept all types of food. A good diet for them includes a combination of high-quality commercial feed and live, fresh, or frozen foods such as live fish and shrimp. This diet will help to keep them looking vivid and their behavior closer to natural.


Unfortunately, a Senegal Bichir’s natural lifespan is quite a bit shorter than in captivity. In the wild, these fish typically only live for 3-5 years. This is due to a variety of factors, including predation, disease, and environmental conditions.

In an aquarium, however, a Senegal Bichir can live for much longer – up to 10 years or more, with the average being around 8 years. This is due to the fact that in captivity, they are protected from predators, diseases are less common, and water conditions are more stable.


If you’re looking for a prehistoric-looking fish to add to your aquarium, the Senegal Bichir is a great option! This unique fish has an elongated body and small, smooth-looking legs. It also has large, paddle-shaped pectoral fins and a prominent backbone.

Moreover, its color is elementary, resembling wild fish’s classic grayish-brown tone


These unique fish can quickly grow to 12 inches in length, but the average size is around 10 inches. 

Behavior and Temperament

It is known as the most active Bichir species and is a popular choice for aquariums. In addition to being incredibly peaceful, this fish is nocturnal, although it is common to see it in total activity during the day, looking for food. 

These are animals with calm swimming and slow movements; they can be seen standing next to the substrate. Keeping them in a group is recommended, even if they don’t form a shoal.


Although there have been documented cases of Senegal Bichirs being bred in captivity, it is still rare. This is largely due to the fact that Senegal Bichirs are not bred commercially on a large scale. Instead, most of the Senegal Bichirs in the world are collected from their natural habitats.

Senegal Bichirs are oviparous, which means that they lay eggs, as opposed to live-bearing fish who give birth to live young. The eggs are usually laid in a hidden spot in the aquarium, such as among some plants or in a cave. The parents don’t provide any care for the eggs or the fry (baby fish), so it’s up to the aquarist to make sure they are properly cared for.

Interestingly, the mating ritual begins with a series of leaps from the surface, usually just one at a time, followed by a slow descent through the water. After performing the movements for a while, the male will be very close to the female, who will remain motionless in the water, encouraging the male to push her with lateral head movements.

The male’s anal fin, normally enlarged and swollen, is bent into a concave shape and used to “shave” the female. Eggs are laid a little at a time along with thick vegetation and fertilized by the male afterwards. Spawning occurs during the rainy season, one seasonal peak per year.

As much as the species does not exhibit parental care, it does not practice cannibalism. 

Gender Differences: Male vs Female

The Senegal Bichir is sexually dimorphic, meaning that there are visual differences between the sexes. The biggest difference is in the anal fin. The male anal fin is about twice as wide as the female anal fin. This is the only reliable way to sex Senegal Bichir specimens. 

Senegal Bichir Fun Facts

● It occurs in marginal streams and freshwater ponds, usually in muddy regions where it can be found still or slithering around like a snake. During the hottest hours, it comes to the surface at the outer edge of vegetation but returns to the bottom when disturbed.

● Its longevity can exceed 8 years in captivity, being quite common in the aquarium trade. An air-breathing demersal species, it is an incredibly tough predator. It has nocturnal habits and low vision, but it has an excellent sense of smell to locate food.

● Juveniles have an amphibious habit with external gills, which will be lost when they mature. Along with their nocturnal hunting mode, they emerge from their refuges to hunt invertebrates and small fish in shallow water, clearly indicating their evolutionary relationship between fish and amphibians.


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