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

Updated: December 17, 2022

The ornate bichir (Polypterus ornatipinnis) is a beautiful freshwater fish that is native to Africa. They are a popular choice for aquariums because of their unique appearance and easy care.

Ornate bichirs grow to be about 12 inches (30 cm) long and can live for 10-15 years with proper care. They are relatively easy to care for and make a great addition to any freshwater aquarium.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about ornate bichir care. You’ll learn about their diet, size, lifespan, and more!

Species overview

The Ornate Bichir (Polypterus ornatipinnis) is a freshwater fish that is native to the Congo Basin in Africa. It is closely related to the common bichir (Polypterus senegalus) and is often confused with it.

The Ornate Bichir grows to a length of about 18 inches (45 cm) and is a brown or greenish color with black spots. It has a long, eel-like body and is a good swimmer.

The Ornate Bichir is a predator and will eat small fish, crustaceans, and insects. It is a nocturnal fish and is most active at night.

The Ornate Bichir is a popular aquarium fish and is easy to care for. It is important to provide it with a large tank with plenty of hiding places.


Ornate bichir

The Ornate Bichir is an eel-like freshwater fish that has a unique appearance. They have a long snake-like body that is covered in scales. These scales are large and have a rough texture.

The Ornate Bichir is dark brown or black in color with a white or cream-colored belly. They have a long dorsal fin that runs the length of their body. This fin is tall and has a saw-toothed edge.

They also have a long anal fin and a forked caudal fin. Their pectoral fins are small and located near their head. They have small eyes and a large mouth that is filled with sharp teeth.

Ornate Bichirs can grow to be over a foot in length. They are a nocturnal species of fish that prefer to live in dark, murky waters.


In the wild, the lifespan of an ornate bichir is around 10 years. But in captivity, with proper care, they can live for 20 years or more!

One of the reasons ornate bichirs can live so long is because they have a very slow metabolism. This means they don’t need to eat as much as other fish, which can reduce stress and extend their lifespan.

Of course, they still need to eat a nutritious diet and be kept in clean water if they’re going to reach their full potential.


The maximum size of an Ornate Bichir is about 18 inches, but they are typically only about 12 inches long. These fish can live for 10-15 years with proper care.


Tank Size

The minimum tank size for an ornate bichir is 30 gallons. If you want to keep more than one fish, you should add at least 10 gallons for each additional fish.

Water Parameters

The ornate bichir is a freshwater fish that is found in slow moving rivers and floodplains in Africa. They prefer water that is warm and has a lot of vegetation.

To keep your ornate bichir healthy, you will need to replicate these water conditions as closely as possible. They are very sensitive to changes in water parameters and even small deviations can result in stress and health problems.

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

  • Water Temperature: Between 77°F-86°F
  • pH Levels: 6.5-7.5
  • Water hardness: between 4 and 8 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 3-10 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

When it comes to setting up an aquarium for an Ornate Bichir there are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration.

The first is that these fish get quite large. They can reach up to 2 feet in length in some cases! This means you’ll need to provide them with a tank that’s at least 75 gallons.

Another thing to consider is that these fish like to have a lot of hiding spots. This can be in the form of plants, driftwood, or caves. Whatever you choose to use just make sure there’s enough for all of your fish.

Ornate Bichirs are also known to be escape artists. They’re known to jump out of tanks that don’t have a lid! For this reason, we recommend getting a tank that has a lid or is tall enough that they can’t jump out.

The substrate in their tank can be whatever you want. Gravel is always a good choice, but sand can be used as well. Just avoid anything too sharp or rough.

Common Diseases

Ornate bichirs are actually quite hardy fish. They’re not immune to disease, but they’re not as susceptible as some other species.

The most common disease that these fish experience is ich. This is a parasite that will attach itself to your fish and cause white spots to form on the body.

If left untreated, ich can be fatal. However, it’s relatively easy to treat if you catch it early.

Another disease that these fish can get is hole-in-the-head disease. This is another parasitic infection that is caused by poor water quality.

It will present itself as, you guessed it, holes in the head of your fish. This disease is also curable if you take care of it quickly.

The best way to prevent these diseases is to maintain a high quality of water in your tank. A well-filtered and well-aerated tank will go a long way in keeping your fish healthy.

Behavior & Temperament

The ornate bichir is a predatory fish, which means it will hunt and eat smaller fish and invertebrates. In the wild, their diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, and insects.

In captivity, they can be fed live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods. Some aquarists have success feeding them pellets or flakes, but it’s not the preferred method. They may not get all the nutrients they need from these foods.

Ornate bichir are nocturnal, so they’re most active at night. During the day, they’ll hide in plants or other decorations. When they’re out and about, they’ll use their sensory organs to “taste” the water for food.

These fish are relatively peaceful, but they can be aggressive towards smaller fish. If you’re keeping them with other fish, make sure the tank is big enough and there are plenty of hiding places.

Tank Mates

Ornate bichirs are big, bold, and beautiful fish. They’re also some of the oldest fish in the world.

With a lifespan of up to 15 years, these fish outlive most other freshwater species.

In the wild, ornate bichirs occupy a wide range of habitats. They’re found in both fast-moving rivers and stagnant swamps. As a result, they’re adaptable to a variety of water conditions.

Ornate bichirs are relatively peaceful fish. They’re not known to be aggressive and will usually leave other fish alone.

That said, they are opportunistic feeders. If they see an easy meal, they might go after it. This is something to keep in mind when choosing tank mates.

Overall, ornate bichirs are compatible with most other fish. They get along with both peaceful and semi-aggressive species.

Some good ornate bichir tank mates include:


These fish are not easy to breed in captivity. In fact, it’s only been successfully done a handful of times. If you’re up for the challenge, here’s what you need to know.

First, you need to sex the fish. Males and females have different patterns on their dorsal fins. The males also have longer pectoral fins.

Once you’ve got your pair, it’s time to set up the breeding tank. It should be at least 55 gallons and filled with soft, acidic water. The temperature should be between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add a few plants to the tank for the fry to hide in. Java fern and Anubias are good choices. You should also add a piece of driftwood or a cave.

When everything is ready, slowly acclimate the fish to the new environment. Once they’re comfortable, the female will lay a large batch of eggs (usually around 200). The male will then fertilize them.

After that, it’s a waiting game. The eggs will hatch in about two weeks. When they do, remove the adults from the tank. They will eat the fry if given the chance.

The fry are tiny and need special care. They need to be fed live foods like baby brine shrimp or daphnia. You can also give them finely-crushed flake food.


The Ornate Bichir is an amazing fish that is perfect for the intermediate to advanced fish keeper. They are not for everyone, but if you are looking for a challenge then this is the fish for you.

They are very sensitive to changes in their environment and need to be in a well-established tank with stable water parameters. They are also very sensitive to medications, so you need to be very careful when treating them for illnesses.

Overall, we think the Ornate Bichir is a great fish for the right person. They are beautiful, unique, and a joy to own. If you are up for the challenge, then we say go for it!