Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Polypterus ornatipinnis

Ornate bichir

Ornate bichir, Polypterus ornatipinnis Ornate bichir, Polypterus ornatipinnis
Photos by Michelle Stuart


Polypterus: Greek, poly = a lot of + Greek, pteron = wing, fin. Refers to the many dorsal finlets.

General Notes:

Ornate bichirs are loners, and predatory. I have seen two hunt and eventually catch, kill and eat a silver dollar, Metynnis hypsauchen which shared their tank and was very much larger than the bichirs. I thought it would make a good tank mate due to its peaceful nature, and its size and shape would prevent it from being attacked. Based on my own experience I would recommend a species tank for these fish.

A simple aquarium set up is all that is required. A soft substrate, subdued lighting with various sized stones and bogwood which should be used to form caves and hiding places.


Predator, feeds mainly at night and hunts alone. Juveniles eat mainly worms and insect larva but adults take larger prey like fish. Ornate bichirs should be fed after the aquarium lights have been turned off. There is no real need to use live prey because they will accept frozen food such as blood worms, krill ect when young and lance fish, sardines, prawns, suitably sized earth worms ect when adult.


Ornate bichirs do best in a species tank due to their nocturnal predatory nature.


The sexes are very similar in appearance when adult but when compared closely the male has a proportionally larger anal fin than the female.


Ornate bichirs have bred in captivity but it is rare and has usually been a random event rather than a planned breeding attempt. The male initiates breeding by approaching the female and wrapping his body around hers in such a way that the eggs can be fertilised as they are laid. The adhesive eggs are lain among plants and once spawning is over the pair pay no attention to the eggs.

The eggs hatch after about 96 hours and the fry initially have external gills. Their yolk sacs will be used up about a week after hatching and the fry will become more active as they look for food. The fry are large enough to accept newly hatched brine shrimps and micro worms.

Wild status

The IUCN lists Polypterus ornatipinnis as Least Concern because it has such a large range and there are no range wide threats to the species. In E Africa it is listed as near threatened but in W Africa it is listed as Least Concern. Ornate bichirs are harvested as food for humans. Localised swamp drainage for agriculture is a threat to some wild populations.

Additional information

All Polypterus are under revision (2015).

Information at a glance

pH: 6.8 - 8
dGH: 5 - 25
Temperature: 26 - 28°C (78- 82°F)
Lighting: Subdued
Diet: Omnivore
Size: 60cm (24in)
Min tank size: 675litres
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Aquarium type: Community
Swimming level: Mostly lower

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Polypterus ornatipinnis

Origin: Africa: Congo River basin in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola

Habitat: Calm waters of swamps and rivers


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Polypteriformes
Family: Polypteridae
Genus: Polypterus
Species: P. ornatipinnis Boulenger, 1902

Other common names:

Synonyms: None