Polypterids an introduction and primer 4.0

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In Loving Memory
Mar 31, 2005
Netting and moving
Think they are slow? Try catching one that doesn't want to be caught!
RULE#1 do not use your bare hands the finlets on the back of a bichir are
extremely sharp and the bichir knows how to use them (you have been warned)

There are four basic ways to net a fish:

1) Using two nets one large and one small. Direct the fish into the large net using the smaller net
2)Use a large clean white pillow case or sturdy plastic bag and with a small net direct the fish into the pillow case or bag
3) use a piece of PVC pipe over one end with a net direct the fish with a smaller net into the tube then cover the open
end with the second net lift out the pvc with the nets.
4)My personal favorite drain the tank for a big waterchange makes them so much easier to handle if they can't move in three
dimensions (less stress for all involved also)


In Loving Memory
Mar 31, 2005
Escape proofing
Polypterids are escape artists theres no denying it, but we can stop them. With a little effort you can foil their plans for a midnight hike and believe me preventing it is easier then fixing them after.

Glass tops have a heavy vinly strip that can be cut to exactly A) the intake and output area of your filter, or if using a canister filter drill holes
for the intake and return. For cutting vinyl use a utility knife remember make the opening no bigger than needed. On full canopy top its the same thing except you'll need a jigsaw or scrollsaw to cut the openings. As for the opening part of the lid or top make sure it fits well and add weight to it. Remember make openings no bigger than needed. If you should have an escapee and you find it within a few hours return it to the tank and move it gently forward and backwards. Many that look like lost causes will revive in a few minutes to an hour. They may not act normal for a day or two but thats normal. Observe it for the next several days for any sign of infections.
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In Loving Memory
Mar 31, 2005
Feeding and nutrition
Now that you have a bichir what does it eat? In their natural habitat bichirs normally eat small fish, various insect larvae and invertabrates. Bichirs are generally non agressive ambush predators but also oppurtunistic scavengers. Objects too big to be consumed whole are often "deathrolled" till small parts are twisted and ripped off the carcass. The key here is to balance the diet through a variety of foods with an eye on total nutrition. A varied diet is a good diet for your fish and yourself.

Now then what can we feed them? You actually have several options and they will be listed below.

The freezer at your local fish store is a smorgasboard of foods which should include:
  • silversides or lancefish
  • mysis shrimp
  • brine shrimp
  • krill
  • bloodworms
  • tubifex worms
  • squid
  • beefheart
Simply thaw and feed

Your local market can be a great source of foods check the seafood section of the freezer
You can use just about any foods you find there including:
  • mussels
  • shrimp
  • most fish filets (avoid salmon i think its to oily)

Available at the butcher counter or they should be able to order it for you:
  • beefheart
  • and yes chicken gizzards
To prepare the above cut it into strips and remove any fat you can find
fish do not digest mammialian fat well

Live foods include:
  • Some frog species(some frogs release a nasty chemical when bitten)
  • tadpoles
  • African dwarf frogs are safe and part of the natural diet
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Earthworms
  • Mealworms feed only the recently shed(white) ones the chiton in the exoskeleton can be hard to digest and in some can result in intestinal blockages.
There is really no reason to feeders except as the ocassional treat.
Various live fish and fry can be used for foods. Caution here unless you raise them. Any commercialy bought feeders usually rosie reds/tuffies (the albino form of fat head minnows), guppies, bait minnows etc need to be quarantined before feeding them to your fish for several reasons:
  1. They are kept in horrible conditions
  2. They are often diseased
  3. They often are carriers of parasites
During quarantine dispose of the obviously sick or diseased. The remaining ones feed quality foods a healthy feeder is of course better for your fish.

Goldfish just generaly are poor feeders and should be avoided. They are oily, not very nutritious and constant feed of them causes fatty deposits on the liver leading to premature deaths. They also contain very high levels of Thiaminase A destroying hormone. While many fish used as feeders contain this, goldfish seem to have an abundance of it. Another issue is a spine at the front of the dorsal fin which can lead to problems if the goldfish is swollowed the wrong way (tailfirst). Yet another reason not to use goldfish ,goldfish farms utilize copper meds in suspension form to combat diseases in the feeders associated with overcrowding. These copper meds are retained by the feeders for long periods after they leave the farms. Most lfs invariably retain all or part of the feeders shipping water when the feeders are loaded into their bins/tanks. And copper does not dissapate from a closed system.
The key is to balance the diet with a variety of foods listed above not just 1 or 2 items and skipping a meal once you notice a decline in growth rate is good for fish.The sad truth is we as hobbyists tend to overfeed our charges.

Pellitized foods ccn be found in various diameters and forms include sinking and floating pellets and sticks
  • shrimp pellets
  • worm pellets
  • even pellets for cichlids will work
  • spirulina sticks
  • brine shrimp sticks
  • Algae wafers(some eat them some just look at them)

When feeding pellets how much to feed?
Under 7'' I let them eat as much as they want several small feedings when young are better then 1 or 2 large feedings. I let juvies eat till theres a slight bulge to there bellies
This really applies to bichirs 7''+, I feed mine twice a day skipping at least one day a week
Approx. 80% of their diet is a quality pellet food the rest frozen with the ocassional live feeders after quarantine of course.
How many Pellets?
I start off with total 2 pellets per inch of fish eg. a 7'' fish gets 7 pellets in the A.M. and 7 in the evening feeding is then adjusted up or down so all pellets are consumed.Remember a nice round bichir is a happy bichir

Read the labels and look for this information
Below are the agreed upon nutritional requirements for predatory fish
below that is a list of necessary vitamins usually supplied and just for informational
PROTEIN:: 45% or more (this would be the ideal)
FAT:: 3% Min. to 6% Max.
FIBER 2% Min. to 4% Max

VITAMINS and what they do
(If you want to suppliment vitamins use only vitamin products developed for fish
do not use vitamnins developed for humans use.)
Fat Soluble Vitamins
VITAMIN A promotes cellular growth
Functions: - normal vision, cell growth and resistance to infection
Deficiencies: - poor growth, poor vision, abnormal bone formation and
hemorrhaging at the base of the fins
VITAMIN D3 important for developing bone
Functions: - calcium blood levels (?)
Deficiencies: - unknown
VITAMIN E important for the development of the sex organs in breeding fish
Functions: - antioxidant, may paly a role in muscle cell respiration
Deficiencies: - anemia and poor growth
Water Soluble Vitamins
Functions: - Thiamine-aids growth, digestion and fertility, nervous system
Deficiencies: - poor appetite, muscle atrophy, convulsions, loss of
equilibrium and poor growth
VITAMIN B2 Riboflavin- regulates enzymes
Functions: - vision, protein metabolism and enzyme functioning
Deficiencies: - photophobia, cloudy lens, dim vision, abnormal
colouration of the iris, striated constrictions on the
abdominal wall, dark pigmentation, poor appetite,
anemia and poor growth
VITAMIN B3 Nicotinic Acid-needed for proper digestion
Functions: - plays an important role in lipid, protein and amino
acid metabolism
Deficiencies: - loss of appetite, poor growth, lesions in colon,
erratic motion and weakness, edema of stomach and
VITAMIN B5 Pantothenic Acid-controls metbolism and hormones
Functions: - adrenal functioning, cholersterol production, normal
physiology and metabolism
Deficiencies: - poor growth, sluggishness, clubbed gills, loss of
appetite, hemmorhagic skin and cellular atrophy
VITAMIN B6 Pyroxidine-enzymes and metabolism of protein
Functions: - plays a vital role in enzyme systems and protein
Deficiencies: - nervous dissorders, fits, loss of appetite, poor
growth, rapid and gasping breathing, flexing of
opercles and hyperirritability
VITAMIN B12 Cyanocobalamin- metabolism
Functions: - enzyme systems, cholesterol metabolism
Deficiencies: - poor appetite, poor growth, anemia and dark
VITAMIN C Ascorbic Acid- formation fo teeth and bones , healing wounds and formation of
Functions: - enzyme systems, bone, tooth and cartilage formation
and healing
Deficiencies: - hemorrhagic shin, kidneys, liver, intestine and muscle
tissue, eye lesions and scoliosis of the spine
VITAMIN H Biotin- promotes cell growth
Functions: - enzyme systems, purine and lipid synthesis, oxidation
of lipids and carbohydrates
Deficiencies: - loss of appetite, poor growth, anemia, skin lesions
and muscle atrophy
VITAMIN M Folic Acid- formation of blood and metabolism
Functions: - blood cell formation, blood glucose regulation and
fish metabolism
Deficiencies: - poor growth, lethargy, dark skin, anemia and fragility
of the caudal fin
CHOLIN growth and breakdown nutrients (fat) regulating glucose
Functions: - good growth and food conversion
Deficiencies: - poor growth, poor food conversion, hemorrhagic kidney
and intestine
INOSITOL permeability of cell membrane
Deficiencies: - poor growth, distended stomach, skin lesions and
increased gastric emptying time
p-AMINOBENZOID ACID- stimulates growth (not proven essential)
Deficiencies: - no abnormal indication in growth, appetite and

free in water the following happens After 30 seconds this applies to
water soluble vitamins only
Vitamin b6 loss 15%
Folic Acid loss 20%
Choline loss 30%
Panothenic acid loss 50%
Vitamin C loss 70%
Vitamin B12 loss 90%
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In Loving Memory
Mar 31, 2005
Bichirs in general are a hardy fish however if you need to treat a tank with bichirs in it, some medications are not tolerated well, particulary copper based ones such as malachite green, victoria green, methyline blue, and formalin based medications, below is a list of medications and dosages:
  • formalin based medication 1/2 directed dose
  • methyline blue 1/2 directed dose
  • malachite green 1/2 directed dose
  • parasite guard 3/4 directed dose
  • parasite guard full directed dose
  • metronidazole full diercted dose
  • maracyn-2 full directed dose
  • maracyn full directed dose
  • kanacyn full directed dose
  • melafix full directed dose
  • pimafix full directed dose
  • aquarisol 1/2-2/3 directed dose
  • quickcure 1/2-2/3 directed dose
  • neo-sporin or poly-sporin as topical antiseptic
As with any medication watch for any signs of istress.
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In Loving Memory
Mar 31, 2005
When asked "will they get along ?" Sometimes the answer is as simple as yes or no, the truth is we speak in generalities some fish in theory should be ok together some not. The long broad sweeping statements are flawed as they are generalities I think we all know generalities are just opinions, but because we are dealing with animals each with its own personality its flawed. This question is harder with predatory fish, due to their natural habits, predation! Where they naturally feed on the smaller, weaker and the sick, claim territory and defend it. The actual answer is we don't know, it's our best guess that they should or shouldn't get along. I know one of my bichirs is highly agressive which is completely different from what i have been told, so he's in his own tank, my others all conspecifics seem fine together which is opposite from what i have read and been told. Its a case of trial and error to some extent and depends on the individual animal. When introducing a new animal into the territory of an established animal try rearanging the tank it tends to remove reference points for territoriality but most important watch for trouble and stop it before it goes to far.

Tankmates for small to medium bichirs
Below is a partial list of possible tankmates for the small to mid-sized bichirs species. Parameters I used are based on size, temperment and availabilty. And i believe is a good starting point for you to do further research before purchasing -Anne

Dusky Pimelodid-Pimelodus blochii
Giraffe Catfish-Auchenoglanis occidentalis
Dwarf giraffe Catfish-Parauchenoglanis macrostoma
Giant Whiptail Catfish-Sturisoma aureum
Synodontis alberti
Synodontis angelicus
Synodontis pleurops
Synodontis decorus
Synodontis eupterus
Synodontis notatus
Synodontis brichardi
Synodontis nigrita
Synodontis flavitaeniata
Synodontis soloni
Liver Catfish-Heteropneustes fossilis
Black Lancer-Bagrichthys hypselopterus

Bristlenose-Ancistrus dolichopterus

Silver dollar-Metynnis argenteus
Distichodus notospilus-Distichodus notospilus
Congo tetra-Phenacogrammus interruptus
Black-Barred Myleus-Myleus schomburgki
Filament tetra-Bryconaethiop microstoma

Peacock Eel- Macrognathus aculeatus

*(see note)
Dicus-Symphysodon discus
Angelfish-Pterophyllum ssp.
Two-Spot Cichlid-Cichlasoma bimaculatum
Tilapia joka-Tilapia joka
Oscar-Astronotus ocellatus
Severum-Cichlasoma severum
Kribensis- Pelvicachromis pulcher
Sparkling Earth Eater-Satanoperca acuticeps
Blue acara-Aequidens pulchrus
Balzani's Earth Eater-Gymnogeophagus balzanii
Blood Parrot Cichlid-Hybrid no scientifc name
Blue-Eye Cichlid-Cichlasoma spilurum
Festivum-Mesonauta festivus
African Peacock Cichlid-Aulonocara nyassae
Balzani's Earth Eater-Gymnogeophagus balzanii
Bandit Cichlid-Aequidens geayi
Blockhead Cichlid-Steatocranus casuarius
Callolepis Cichlid-Cichlasoma callolepis
Freiberg's Peacock Cichlid-Aulonocara jacobfreibergi
Keyhole Cichlid-Cleithracara maronii
Port Acara-Aequidens portalegrensis
Uaru- Uaru amphicanthiodes

Labyrinth fishes
Ctenopoma .acutirostre-Ctenopoma .acutirostre
Ctenopoma oxyrhynchus-Ctenopoma oxyrhynchus
Ctenopoma kingsleyae-Ctenopoma kingsleyae

Variegated Shark-Labeo variegatus
Bala Shark-Balantiocheilos melanopterus
Red-Finned Cigar Shark-Leptobarbus hoevenii
Red-linned torpedo barb-Puntius denisonii
Tinfoil Barb-Barbodes schwanefeldii
Chinese Algae Eater-Gyrinocheilus aymonieri
Clown Loach-Botia macracantha

African mudfish-Phractolaemus ansorgei
Black Ghost Knifefish -Apteronotus albifrons
Elephantnose-Gnathonemus petersii
African butterfly-Pantondon bucholzi
African Knifefish-Xenomystus nigri
(*note :to avoid agression do not have breeding pairs )

Tankmates for larger polypterus species

Below is a list of possible tankmates for the larger bichir species.This is not a full list of compatable fish but a general idea.
Note some are on both lists.As always research before buying .Based on adult maximum sizes.
Just a note an adult lower jaw bichir is capable of opening it mouth almost the diameter of its body.
Possible tankmate for P.endilcherii , P.bichir, P.congicus and P. Bichir lapradei

Silver dollar - Metynnis argenteus
African pike- Hepsetus odoe
Freshwater Barracuda - Ctenolucius hujeta
Distichodus notospilus- Distichodus notospilus
Distichodus fasciolatus - Distichodus fasciolatus
Nurse tetra - Alestes nurse
African tigerfish - Hydrocynus goliath
Vampire Characin-Hydrolycus scomberoides

(*see note)
Oscar - Astronotus ocellatus
Umbee- Cichlasoma umbriferum
Golden Tropheops- Pseudotropheus tropheops
Black Belt Cichlid - Cichlasoma maculicauda
Blue Flash -Thorichthys aureus
Uaru - Uaru amphicanthiodes
Carpinte Cichlid - Cichlasoma carpinte
Chrysonotus Cichlid -Copadichromis chrysonotus
Chunky Hap- Protomelas annectens
Firemouth -Cichlasoma meeki
Guenther's Cichlid- Chromidotilapia guentheri guentheri
Haitian Cichlid- Cichlasoma haitiensis
Leopold's Angelfish- Pterophyllum leopoldi
Lifalili Jewel Cichlid- Hemichromis lifalili
Livingstoni's Nimbochromis-Nimbochromis livingstonii
Malawi Blue Dolphin -Cyrtocara moorii
Nicaragua Cichlid- Hypsophrys nicaraguensis
Nkata Cichlid- Copadichromis nkatae
Pasionis Cichlid- Cichlasoma pasionis
Rainbow Cichlid- Herotilapia multispinosa
Tiger Tilapia-Tilapia mariae

Dusky Pimelodid -Pimelodus blochii
Crystal-Eyed Catfish- Mystus wyckii
Banded Shovelnose Catfish- Brachyplatystoma juruense
Spotted Shovelnose-Hemisorubim platyrhynchos
Giraffe Catfish-Auchenoglanis occidentalis
Dwarf giraffe Catfish-Parauchenoglanis macrostoma

widebar datnoid- Datnioides pulcher 16''
Thinbar datnoid- Datnioides undecimradiatus 16''
Indonesian datnoid-Coius microlepis 18''

Adonis pleco-Acanthicus adonis
Black adonis-Acanthicus hystrix

Spotted gar -Lepisosteus ocula
Tropical Gar-Atractosteus tropicus
Shortnose Gar- Lepisosteus platostomus

Clown Knifefish-Chitala chitala
African Knifefish- Xenomystus nigri
banded knifefise-Gymnotus carapo

Labyrinth fish
Giant Gourami- Osphronemus goramy

Tire Track Eel-Mastacembelus armatus
Peacock Eel-Macrognathus aculeatus
FW moray-Gymnothorax polyuranodon
Freshwater Moray Eel- Echidna rhodochilus

Bala Shark-Balantiocheilos melanopterus
Red-Finned Cigar Shark-Leptobarbus hoevenii
Tinfoil Barb-Barbodes schwanefeldii
Chinese Algae Eater- Gyrinocheilus aymonieri
Clown Loach- Botia macracantha

Black Ghost Knifefish- Apteronotus albifrons
Elephantnose-Gnathonemus petersii
Black Devil Stingray-Potamotrygon leopoldi
Motoro Stingray-Potamotrygon motoro

(*note :to avoid agression do not have breeding pairs )
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In Loving Memory
Mar 31, 2005
Suggested reading
Evans, Sean. (2003) Living Fossils [Keeping Polypterus in the Aquarium]. Practical Fishkeeping, Xmas 2003.
Lewis, Peter A. (1996). The bichirs; Ancient fish with many fins. Aquarium Fish Magazine, May 1996.
Azuma, H. (1995). Breeding Polypterus endlicheri. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Oct 1995.
Castro, Alfred D. (1995). Back again; The re-emergence of an aquarium fish from the 60s (bichirs). Aquarium Fish Magazine, May 1995.
Donovan, Paul. (1992). Beautiful bichirs. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium, Feb 1992.
Edmonds, Les. (1992). The mysterious bichirs. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Feb 1992.
Burgess, Warren E. (1983) Bichirs and rope fish. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Jan 1983.
Britz, R. (2004): Polypterus teugelsi, a new species of bichir from the Upper Cross River system in Cameroon (Actinopterygii: Cladistia: Polypteridae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 15 (2): 179-186.
Britz, R., and Bartsch, P. (1998). On the Reproduction and Early Development of Erpetoichthys calabaricus, Polypterus senegalus, and Polypterus ornatipinnis (Actinopterygii: Polypteridae). Ichthyological Exploration Of Freshwaters 9 (4): 325-334.
Bartsch, P., Gemballa, S., Piotrowski, T. (1997). The embryonic and larval development of Polypterus senegalus Cuvier, 1829: ist staging with reference to external and skeletal features, behaviour and locomotory habits. Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 78 (4): 309-328.
Hanssens, M.M., G.G.Teugels, D.F.E.Thys Van den Audenaerde (1995): Subspecies in the Polypterus palmas complex (Brachiopterygii; Polypteridae) from West and Central Africa. Copeia 1995 (3): 694-705.
Gosse, J.-P. (1984). Polypteridae. p.18-29. In J. Daget, J.-P. Gosse and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde (eds.) Check-list of the freshwater fishes of Africa (CLOFFA). ORSTOM, Paris and MRAC, Tervuren. Vol. 1.
Gosse, J. -P. 1988. Revision systematique de deux expeces du genre Polypterus (Pisces, Polypteridae). Cybium 12(3):239-245.
Swinney, G.N. & D. Heppell. (1982) Epetoichthys or Calamoichthys: the correct name for the African reedfish. J. Nat. Hist. 16: 95-100.
Kodera,Haruto et al Jurassic Fishes TFH 1996
Schafer,Frank Polypterus 2004 Aqua Log isbn 3936027-0
Wolff, U. 1976. Oddities; African snake-fish (Calamoichthys calabaricus). Aquarium Digest Intl. 4(1):21.
Sterba, Gunther. 1966. Freshwater Fishes of the World. The Pet Library , Ltd, NY. 879pp.
Lewis, Peter A. 1996. The bichirs; Ancient fish with many fins. AFM 5/96.
Edmonds, Les. 1992. The mysterious bichirs. TFH 2/92.
Axelrod, Herbert R., Warren E. Burgess, Neal Pronek & Jerry G. Walls. 1990. Atlas of Aquarium Fishes Reference Book, v.2, Freshwater Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. NJ. 1055pp.
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