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

Updated: November 27, 2022

The Saddled Bichir is a freshwater fish that is native to Africa. It is a popular fish in the aquarium trade due to its unique appearance and peaceful nature.

This fish is a member of the bichir family, which is a group of ancient fishes that are often referred to as “living fossils”.

The Saddled Bichir is a nocturnal fish, meaning that it is most active at night. During the day, it will often hide among the plants or rocks in the aquarium.

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

Species overview

Saddled bichirs (scientific name: Polypterus endlicheri) are a type of freshwater fish that’s native to Africa. They’re most commonly found in the Congo River basin but have also been spotted in other rivers throughout the region.

These fish are unique in that they have both lungs and gills, which allows them to survive in low-oxygen environments. This is one of the reasons why they’re able to live in murky rivers where other fish would quickly perish.

Saddled bichirs are nocturnal predators that hunt for smaller fish, insects, and crustaceans. In the wild, they can grow to be quite large, but in captivity, they usually max out at around 12 inches.

Due to their unique appearance and hunting habits, saddled bichirs are a popular choice for many aquarium enthusiasts.


Saddled bichir

Saddled bichirs are an eel-like freshwater fish that are unique in a number of ways. The first thing you’ll notice about them is their strange “duck-billed” mouth. This is actually a sensory organ that helps them find food in the dark waters they come from.

They have a long snake-like body that can grow up to three feet in length! Along their body, you’ll find a series of dorsal fins. The first set is small and near their head while the second set is much larger and starts about halfway down their body.

They have a long caudal fin that extends all the way to the end of their bodies. This fin is forked and slightly transparent.

The coloration of saddled bichirs can vary quite a bit. They can be brown, tan, green, or even black. The one thing that is consistent is the series of dark spots that run along their body. These spots are usually black or dark brown.


In the wild, Saddled bichirs have a lifespan of around 10 years. However, in captivity, they often only live for 5 to 7 years.

One of the biggest factors impacting their lifespan is the quality of care they receive. Suboptimal water conditions, for example, can lead to a shortened lifespan.

It’s also worth noting that these fish are relatively fragile when they’re young. So, even if you take great care of them, their lifespan might still be on the shorter side.


Saddled bichir can reach a length of about 24 inches, but most only grow to be about 18 inches long. These fish are some of the larger freshwater aquarium fish available. They need a lot of space to swim and hide, so a tank that is at least 50 gallons is recommended.


Tank Size

The minimum tank size for a Saddled Bichir is 30 gallons. If you’re looking for a smaller Bichir then you may want to consider the Dwarf or the Pearl.

While a 30 gallon tank is the minimum, we recommend going up to a 55 gallon tank if you can. This will give your fish plenty of room to swim and explore as well as providing you with some room to add other fish or decorations.

Water Parameters

The saddled bichir is a tropical fish that requires warm water to thrive. Water temperatures in the 75-81 degree Fahrenheit range are ideal.

This fish is also sensitive to changes in water parameters. Sudden or drastic changes can cause stress and even death.

To maintain stable water conditions, it’s best to use a quality aquarium heater and thermometer. Test the water frequently and do small, gradual water changes as needed.

The saddled bichir is also a bit more sensitive to water hardness than some other fish. Water in the soft to medium range is best. A general guideline is 5-15 dGH.

  • Water Temperature: 75-81 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH Levels: 6.5-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 5-15 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 4-8 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

The first thing you need to do is figure out what substrate you want to use. These fish come from a variety of habitats so there isn’t one perfect answer.

A good rule of thumb is to use something that won’t be too abrasive. They have sensitive skin so you don’t want anything that will scratch them up.

Smooth gravel or sand is always a safe bet. If you want to get a little fancier you can use something like crushed coral or even small pebbles.

The next thing you need to consider is what kind of plants you want to put in their tank. These fish are known to uproot plants so you’ll need to be strategic about it.

We recommend going with hardy plants that are tough to kill. Things like Java Fern or Anubias are always a good choice.

You can also include some driftwood and rocks to help break up the line of sight a bit. These fish like to have hiding spots so they feel safe.

Common Diseases

Saddled bichirs are actually quite hardy fish. They’re not immune to disease, but they’re definitely less prone to it than other freshwater species.

The most common illness that these fish experience is ich. This disease is caused by a parasite and will present itself as white spots on the body of your fish.

If left untreated, ich can be deadly. However, it’s usually not too difficult to treat if you catch it early.

The best way to prevent your fish from getting ich (or any other disease) is to maintain a clean and stable habitat. This will help to keep your fish healthy and reduce the chance of them getting sick.

Behavior & Temperament

The saddled bichir is a predatory fish, so it’s important to be aware of that before you decide to add one to your tank. They’re not aggressive by nature, but they will eat smaller fish if given the chance.

It’s best to keep them with fish that are too large to fit in their mouths. That way, you won’t have to worry about them becoming snacks.

In terms of temperament, the saddled bichir is a relatively peaceful fish. It’s not known for being aggressive and will usually leave other fish alone. The only time you might see them become aggressive is if they’re competing for food.

Otherwise, they’re relatively calm and easy-going. They’re also interesting to watch because they’re constantly on the move. They’re always exploring their surroundings and looking for something to eat.

Tank Mates

The saddled bichir is a curious and unique creature. It’s also a popular choice for freshwater aquariums.

But before you add one to your tank, it’s important to know a few things about their care. This includes their diet, tank mates, and more.

In terms of diet, the saddled bichir is an opportunistic feeder. In the wild, they eat just about anything they can find. This includes smaller fish, crustaceans, insects, and more.

While they can be trained to eat pellets and flakes, it’s best to stick to a diet of live and frozen foods.

As for tank mates, the saddled bichir can be kept with other peaceful fish. But because of their diet, it’s best to avoid smaller species.

Some good saddled bichir tank mates include:

  • Catfish
  • Tetras
  • Barbs
  • Rasboras
  • Rainbows
  • Gouramis
  • Danios


Saddled bichirs are a bit more difficult to breed in captivity than other fish. They’re very sensitive to changes in water quality and temperature. The slightest fluctuation can cause them stress, which can lead to death.

To give yourself the best chance of success, start by setting up a separate breeding tank. It should hold at least 55 gallons of water and have a sandy bottom.

Saddled bichirs are egg-layers. The female will lay her eggs in a pit that the male has dug. After she lays them, the male will fertilize them and then guard them.

Once the eggs have hatched, remove the adults from the tank. The fry will feed on microscopic organisms in the water. You can supplement their diet with baby brine shrimp.

As they grow, you can gradually introduce them to larger foods.


The saddled bichir is a unique and interesting fish that is perfect for the advanced aquarium keeper. They are not for the faint of heart, and require a bit more care than your average fish.

However, if you are up for the challenge, they can be a rewarding addition to your aquarium.

They are a hardy fish that are known to adapt well to a variety of different environments, and their unique appearance is sure to turn heads.

If you are looking for a fish that is a little bit out of the ordinary, the saddled bichir is a great option for you.