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Banded Bichir

Polypterus delhezi
DistributionCongo and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Sexual DimorphismWhen in breeding condition, the anal fin of the male thickens and becomes more muscular.
Maximum Size44cm (17.3")
Temperature25-28 deg C (77-82 deg F)
Water ParametersWill acclimatise to a wide range of conditions. pH: 6.0-8.0, dH: up to 25 degrees.
CompatibilityCommunity of medium-large sized peaceful fish only.


The Banded Bichir is known from the middle Congo River basin. Although it is found in a variety of different water parameters, it prefers quieter lakes, streams, and inundated fields, with an abundance of aquatic vegetation. This solitary nocturnal predator tends to seek refuge in dimly lit, sheltered nooks and crannies during the day, emerging at night to feed on insect larvae, worms, and small fish. An aquarium that houses this species should be spacious - ideally at least 6ft x 2ft x 2ft for adult specimens - and very well covered, as these fish are great escape artists. Ensure that any gaps where wires feed in to the aquarium are plugged securely with filter foam or mesh glued into place. The lid of the aquarium may also need to be weighted down. Banded Bichirs have the ability to breathe atmospheric air via their modified swim bladders (part of which functions as an accessory breathing organ to allow them to survive out of water for a time), so a small gap MUST be left between the surface of the water and the cover slides in order for the fish to come up to the surface and take air in. If the fish are denied regular access to air above the surface of the water, they may actually drown, so always run the tank with a dropped waterline. The substrate should consist of soft sand as these fish spend a lot of time foraging about on the bottom of the tank. Smooth water worn rocks and spindly driftwood can be used to create shady caves and there should be areas of dense planting with tall, hardy species such as Vallisneria and large Anubias or Aponogeton spp. Illumination should not be too bright, or if it is, it should be diffused via heavy planting. A blue moon light timed to come on just before the main lights switch off will allow you to view the night-time antics of these fascinating fish. The water should be filtered efficiently but with a gentle output, so that the fish do not have to contend with an overwhelming current. The Polypterus genus is closely related to the monotypic Erpetoichthys genus (Reed Fish), both of which are considered to be the last surviving relatives of some very ancient, primitive species. As their eyesight is quite poor, Banded Bichirs rely on their excellent sense of smell in order to locate food items, and although carnivorous by nature, they are generally very peaceful, and can be kept successfully alongside other medium sized peaceable species. Avoid any tankmates which are small enough to fit into their mouths, as they will be predated upon overnight. Good companions could include some of the medium sized, relatively peaceful cichlid species such as Angelfish, Severums or Festivums, large Trichogaster gouramis, knife fish, other Polypterus spp., or Synodontis catfish. Avoid any really boisterous species though, as otherwise they may outcompete your Banded Bichir at feeding times. Banded Bichirs can be kept in groups in voluminous aquaria, but ensure that all specimens are of similar size and that there is a plethora of hiding places (allow several per fish) so they can form individual territories. Be aware that although Banded Bichirs are considered quite hardy and will acclimatise to a wide range of conditions, they do not handle swings in pH well at all. Likewise, nitrates should not be allowed to creep up, so ensure that small partial water changes are carried out on a regular basis. This species is recommended for advanced aquarists only. May also be seen on sale as Armoured Bichir or Barred Bichir.


These carnivores rarely take dried foods in captivity, so you must be prepared to offer them various meaty frozen foods. Smaller specimens will enjoy bloodworm, white mosquito larvae, vitamin-enriched brineshrimp etc. whereas larger specimens will take bigger foods such as Mysis shrimp, chopped krill/prawns/mussels, earthworms etc. Occasional specimens have been known to take sinking carnivore pellets (pre-soaked in aquarium water to prevent choking – Bichirs are notorious for gulping food down), but this is not the norm. Always try and feed just before lights out, as this is when these fish are naturally most active.


Challenging - this species has been bred in the aquarium, but very infrequently, and with few details available. It would make an excellent breeding project for the serious, dedicated hobbyist. In the wild, Banded Bichirs breed during the rainy season, so simulating a seasonal change with large, cool water changes, and an increase in current may help to trigger breeding. During courtship, the male and female swim parallel to one another, in a graceful fashion, usually through clumps of plants. The male will make jerking sideways movements with his head, towards the female’s body. If she is ready to spawn, she will stop swimming and the male will wrap his anal fin around her genital opening. Both fish will remain motionless whilst a few eggs are deposited in a cup formed by the male’s anal fin, and there they will be fertilised before being dispersed by powerful movements of his tail. The eggs are adhesive and will stick to the plants. This procedure is repeated many times until the female is spent of eggs (usually several hundred). The adults exhibit no parental care. The eggs should hatch after approximately 3-4 days, but remain attached to the vegetation whilst the fry absorb their yolk sacs. A few days later they will begin feeding and should be offered baby brineshrimp (Artemia nauplii). At this stage they have external gills with many branches and resemble salamander larvae (these external gills are lost as the fish grows).

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