Gray bichir Care Guide: Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases, Breeding & More

Updated: November 27, 2022

The gray bichir is a beautiful and unique freshwater fish that adds a very prehistoric feel to your tank.

In fact, they’re one of our favorite freshwater fishes you can get. Period.

There are also a few different types you can get that all have different colors and patterns. You have a lot of options!

But if you’re interested in getting one of these ancient-looking fish, you’ll need to know how to keep them happy and healthy. That’s where this guide comes in.

Below, you’ll learn everything you need to know about gray bichir care and this fish in general. Tank size, diet, tank mates, and more. It’s all here!

Species overview

The gray bichir (scientific name: Polypterus senegalus) is a type of fish that’s native to Africa. They’re most commonly found in the Niger, Senegal, and Congo river basins.

This fish prefers slow-moving waters with a lot of vegetation. This is something that’s common to many types of bichir, as they’re generally bottom-dwellers that like to hide among the plants.

The gray bichir is a carnivorous fish that primarily feeds on small invertebrates. In the wild, they’ve been known to eat things like worms, insects, and crustaceans.

Due to their unique appearance, gray bichirs have been a popular choice for aquariums for many years. They’re not the easiest fish to care for, but they can be a fun addition to a tank if you’re up for the challenge.


Gray bichir

The Gray bichir is an eel-like freshwater fish that can grow to be quite large. They have a long, thin body that tapers off at the end. The majority of their body is a dark gray color with a white or light gray underbelly.

You’ll also find dark spots along their body, but these are more common on juveniles. As they age, these spots will start to fade away.

One of the most unique things about this fish is their pectoral fins. These fins look more like legs and help the fish move around on land (more on that later).

Each of these “legs” has 4-5 “toes” on the end that help them grip surfaces.

The Gray bichir also has a long dorsal fin that starts about two-thirds of the way back on their body. This fin runs the entire length of their body and is slightly taller than their anal fin.

Their caudal fin is forked and rather short when you compare it to the rest of their body.


The average lifespan of a gray bichir is around 10 years. However, there have been reports of them living up to 20 years in captivity!

As with any other animal, their lifespan will be greatly impacted by the level of care they receive. If they’re in a well-maintained tank with good water quality, they’ll likely live on the higher end of the spectrum.


The average size of a gray bichir is about 12 inches, but they can grow up to 18 inches in length. These fish are relatively slow growers, so it may take a few years for them to reach their full size.


Tank Size

The recommended minimum tank size for a gray bichir is 30 gallons. If you’re looking for a smaller freshwater fish, this is not the fish for you.

Gray bichirs are predators and will often try to eat smaller fish. If you’re looking for a community tank, we recommend avoiding this fish or only keeping them with larger fish that can defend themselves.

Water Parameters

The gray bichir is a freshwater fish that is native to Africa. They are found in slow-moving rivers and floodplains. In the wild, the water temperature ranges from 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit with a pH of 6.5-7.5. The water hardness is typically between 2-12 dGH.

In captivity, it is important to maintain similar water conditions. Bichirs are sensitive to water quality and changes in water parameters. Sudden changes can result in stress and health issues.

Bichirs are also sensitive to nitrate levels. Be sure to frequently test the water and perform partial water changes as needed to keep nitrate low. Ammonia and nitrite are extremely dangerous to fish and even in small amounts can prove fatal to bichirs. Always keep these levels at 0 ppm.

  • Water Temperature: 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH Levels: 6.5-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 2-12 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 4-8 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

Gray bichirs are a freshwater species that’s native to Africa. In the wild, they can be found in a variety of habitats (including rivers, lakes, and swamps).

This means that they’re not too picky when it comes to the inside of their tank. That being said, there are still a few things you should include to make them feel at home.

The first is some type of plants. These can be real or fake, but we prefer live plants if possible. They not only help create a more naturalistic environment, but they also provide some hiding places for your fish.

Gray bichirs also love to hide in caves and other dark areas. This is why we recommend including some rocks or driftwood in their tank. You can use these to create some hiding spots for your fish. Just make sure that the wood is completely submerged.

The substrate in their tank can be either sand or gravel. We prefer sand since it’s softer on their belly, but either one will work.

Common Diseases

The gray bichir is a rather hardy fish, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get sick. There are a few diseases that you should be on the lookout for if you own one of these fish.

The most common disease that affects the gray bichir is ich. This is a parasite that attaches itself to the fish and begins to feed off of them.

The most obvious symptom of ich is the presence of white spots on the body of the fish. If you notice this, it’s important to act fast.

Ich can be treated relatively easily if it’s caught early. However, if it’s allowed to progress it can be fatal.

Another disease that can affect the gray bichir is hole-in-the-head disease. This is another condition that’s caused by poor water quality.

It presents itself as, you guessed it, holes in the head of the fish. This disease is also treatable if it’s caught early, but it can be fatal if it’s allowed to progress.

As with any other fish, the best way to prevent disease is by maintaining a clean and stable tank. This will create a healthy environment for your fish and make them much less likely to get sick.

Behavior & Temperament

The gray bichir is a carnivore that likes to stay hidden during the day. It’s a nocturnal creature that is most active at night. You’ll often see it swimming near the bottom of the tank in search of food.

This fish is a loner. It’s not a social creature and prefers to live alone. In fact, it can be quite aggressive towards other fish. If you’re keeping more than one gray bichir, it’s best to give them plenty of space to avoid any fighting.

The gray bichir is also known to be a bit of an escape artist. It’s known to jump out of aquariums, so it’s important to have a lid on your tank.

Tank Mates

The gray bichir is a fascinating fish that is often thought of as a “living fossil.” This species is unique and can live in a wide range of conditions.

As a result, they have a lot of potential tank mates.

The gray bichir is a carnivore that feeds on smaller fish, invertebrates, and tiny land animals that fall into the water. In the wild, they’re known to travel out of the water to hunt on land!

In the aquarium, they can be housed with other fish that occupy different areas of the water column. This will help reduce competition for food.

Some good tank mates for the gray bichir include:

  • African cichlids
  • Synodontis catfish
  • Plecos
  • Loricariids
  • Tetras
  • Rainbows
  • Danios


These fish are not easy to breed in captivity. They are mouthbrooders, which means the female will carry the eggs in her mouth until they hatch.

The female will lay the eggs in a secluded area, often among plants. The male will then fertilize them. Once that’s done, the female will scoop them up in her mouth and carry them around until they hatch.

This can take up to six weeks.

During that time, the female will not eat. She will live off her body fat.

It’s best to remove the male once the eggs have been fertilized. He may become aggressive and try to eat the eggs.

Once the fry have hatched, the female will spit them out. They will be fully independent and ready to start eating on their own.

You can feed them live food or brine shrimp.


The gray bichir is an amazing fish that is perfect for the freshwater aquarium. They are peaceful and get along well with other community fish. They are also easy to care for, which makes them a great choice for beginner fishkeepers.

The only downside to owning a gray bichir is that they can be expensive. But, we think they are worth the investment and we are sure you will be happy with your decision to add one to your tank!