How to Care For a Dinosaur bichir (eel)

Dinosaur Bichir takes you back to a completely different era in history. In fact, it takes us back to prehistoric times, long before humans were even around. 

If you’ve wanted to own your prehistoric dinosaur, here’s your chance. Getting your own triceratops may not be possible, but the dinosaur bichir is. 

They’re not just cool but look like small water dragons that merged with an eel. They’re cool freshwater aquarium fish that you’ll surely love.

However, they’re not a species you can dump into any tank. They’re a predatory species, so it’s important that you take that into account. It means there are a bunch of things to take care of.

We’ve got you covered. We’ll go through 6 specific steps on how to care for a dinosaur bichir, including a fully-grown one. Their nature means they’re not community fish, but they’re still cool.


The most important steps to take care of a growing & full-grown dinosaur bichir (dinosaur eel) are to ensure the right water conditions, know their diets, and make sure they have a good size tank.

In this article, we’ll also go through the following:

  • Their natural habitat
  • Types
beautiful bichir

Caring for a dinosaur bichir

Let’s take a quick look at some things we’ll cover.

  1. Full-grown size
  2. Food & diet
  3. Tank size
  4. Behavior
  5. Breeding
  6. Plants

It’ll give you a sneak peek into the ride you’re in for and the things you’ll need to consider. 

By the time you’re done with this article, you’ll know what’s needed to take of one on your own.

Here’s a quick summary where you can see what’s coming up.

Tank sizeAt least 90 gallons
PlantsYou can place most stuff in the tank.
Full-grown sizeUp to 20 inches in length
Food & dietCarnivore
BreedingVery hard
BehaviorRather aggressive

Full-grown size

Despite being one of the smallest Polypterus species, they’re still big. As they grow to their full size, they can reach 20 inches in length. 

How big do Dinosaur Bichirs get? Find out more about their full-grown size compared to their cousins in the table below.

Dinosaur Bichir20 inches5 pounds
Saddled Bichirs29.5 inches7.3 pounds
Congo Bichirs38.2 inches9.7 pounds


dinosaur bichir at the bottom of a tank

The Polypterus is a prototypical fish species, with the different subvariants sharing most of the same features across the genus.

You’ll find them under different names, including: 

  • dinosaur bichir
  • Senegal bichir
  • Cuvier’s bichir
  • grey bichir
  • Dragonfish
  • or dinosaur eel

However, it’s important to realize it’s still a fish, not an eel.

The Polypterus genus contains a total of 13 different species. The name translates to many fins or many wings. Proof of their existence goes back 200 million years ago as fossils were found from back then. 

Natural habitat

You can find this species in more than 26 African counties. It’s what makes it the most widespread of the Polypterus. For one, it’s present in the Nile River system.

Other countries where it can be found include:

  • Senegal
  • Nigeria
  • Kenya
  • Egypt

They like slow-moving, shallow water with fresh supplies of tropical freshwater. Swamps, floodplains, and lakes with these properties are places where they live. 

Their eyesight is not great, but they’ve learned to adapt in other ways. The familiar places where they can be found in their natural habitats often include murky water. As a consequence, the visibility is rather low. 

However, other things have caused them to be able to survive. They have a great sense of smell, but they have something even cooler.

They can detect electrical currents, which allows them to pick up on smaller fish and other things to hunt. They’re typically not too picky in terms of the fish they go after. 

Water parameters & temperature

They prefer the water between 75-82° F, and it’s what their tank should be at also. The water’s pH should be close to neutral, in the range of 6.2 to 7.8, focusing on softer waters. 


Other fish may be harder to identify, but these aren’t. They have a very distinct look to them and look like dinosaur fish with their long shape.

The body often has darker blotches across the beige-grey body. These darker blotches are usually randomly laid out. A long serrated dorsal fin extends from their body with the ability to either lay it flush on their back or fully extend it.

They’ll rest on the bottom of the aquarium, where they like spending time while being pushed forward with the help of two pectoral fins. 

Unlike other fish, Dinosaur bichirs can stay out of water. However, they still require staying moist as they do so. 

They will drown if they’re not in a place with sufficient oxygen levels. While the drowning may seem inconvenient, it was probably beneficial as a survival mechanism in the murky waters.

Today’s armor has gotten inspiration from their skin. Studying its movement has allowed people wearing armor to gain better mobility. 

Types of bichir species

dinosaur bichir

There are other options available for your tank as well. However, some of them have sizes that are inconvenient for fish tanks at home.

While still growing upwards of 20 inches long, some other species are longer. Here are some other bichir species to consider for your tank. 

  • Albino bichir – they’re just albino dinosaur bichirs. Their pink or red eyes and white bodies will be very distinctive in any tank. They’re a specialized variety.

  • Barre bichir – if you want something smaller, these are great. They grow to a more manageable 15 inches in length in full adult size. Their features are darker and more unique, which is appealing to some tank owners. Besides that, they’re rather similar.

  • Saddled bichir – here’s a big boy. They can grow as long as 30 inches. With their longer lower jaw than their upper one, they have a pretty distinct look. They also have vertical bands across their bodies and color variations that include yellow and white. They come in variations, including platinum, but are also available as albino. 

How to tell the gender

It’s not easy telling the gender of a dinosaur bichir, and breeding them is no easier. However, we have a section dedicated to that. 

To know the gender, you’ll need to inspect the anal fins that will be thicker on the male than the female. Females are typically slightly larger at the same time. 

The differences between the genders are rather small and easy to miss. 


With the biggest teeth of all the bichirs, they can look scary as they open up their mouths. They have very sensitive mouths and don’t want anything getting stuck in there. Irritation can stem from anything getting stuck, even a grain of sand.

They’ll move their heads in jerky motions to ensure nothing is stuck while eating. 

Food & diet

These carnivores need protein, and they need lots of it, given their high activity level and size. 

While other fish may be happy with pellets and fish flakes, dinosaur bichirs aren’t. If they aren’t fed properly, they’ll be more encouraged to go after tankmates. 

Their foods can be either living, frozen, or freeze-dried. You’ll want to make sure it consists mainly of the following:

  • Other small fish
  • Earthworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Shrimp 
  • Bloodworms

Being nocturnal, they’re inclined to eat at night. You’ll want to feed them as the lights go out or shortly after that. You can experiment with giving them food a little earlier each day to see if you can change their eating patterns. 

Some fish owners have success with it so that they can be fed at a more convenient hour. If you can, let them eat when it suits them better. They’ll much prefer it. 

Their bad eyesight means their more inclined to find the food from the smell than seeing it dumped down in the middle of the tank.

While beet juice may be a great thing for humans, dinosaur bichirs have requirements regarding their food and diet.

Tank size requirements

These are not small fish you’re dealing with, and they’ll need appropriate tanks as a consequence. While they may be hardy in terms of the water conditions they can live in, they’ll take up a lot of space.

With their ability to escape, you’ll want to be prepared. A lid is necessary for the aquarium to make sure you keep them where they’re supposed to be. Do you remember how we said they could drown? 

You’ll want to ensure a gap exists between the tank lid and the water surface where they can come up and breathe as needed. It’s no different from humans having a harder time breathing in higher altitudes

You’ll want a tank size no smaller than 90 gallons. While it may seem big, it’s necessary. Some fish keepers start out with a 40-gallon tank as they’re small. They either realize they’ll need to upgrade in the future, or they soon come to find that the tank is becoming too small. 

90 Gallon Aquarium

Having the right size tank as you start out is a much better solution. Moving everything over is not easy, so you’ll want to save yourself the hassle.

Fish tank decorations are a good idea, but there are things to remember. Your dinosaur bichirs hang around the bottom of the tank for the majority of the time. It means you’ll want the substrate to be something they enjoy and not something that scratches them.

Sand is a great idea. Driftwood is a popular addition that can be used to provide them with some shelter

Behavior & aggression

As a carnivore species, most other fish look like food to them. They’re pretty aggressive for a fish but fairly peaceful for their genus. 

Large carnivores need to be fed, and the dinosaur bichir is no exception. Smaller tankmates will soon disappear into their bellies if not chosen wisely, and small fish look like a snack.

They’re relatively active for their size and will move across the bottom of the aquarium. For that, they use their pectoral fins. Having to avoid drowning, moving up to get air is necessary. 

It also means you won’t have trouble finding them in the aquarium as they’ll be moving around. They’re a fun pet to keep!

Being nocturnal, you’ll find them especially active at night. That’s when they prefer going looking for food rather than doing so during the day. Some bichirs acclimate and become more entertaining throughout the day, whereas some stay active only at night. 


With their aggressive nature, you can’t put them in the same tank as any other animal. They’ll just end up eating them. However, it doesn’t mean there aren’t tankmates they can be paired with. 

It’s important to remember that you can’t keep stuffing the tank with more and more animals, and the dinosaur bichir already takes up a lot of space. 

You’ll want to put something big in there to make sure the bichir doesn’t believe the other tank inhabitants are just another meal. You’ll also want something that can stand up to the dinosaur bichir.

Other bichirs are preferable, but other potential tankmates include:

  • Flowerhorn cichlids
  • Dempsey fish
  • Oscar fish
  • Knife fish


Their expected lifespan in the wild is a guessing game. However, they can live in captivity for up to 30 years if the conditions are right. However, they’ll need to be properly cared for and have good water conditions. 


Plants can be added to the fresh water tank, but the bichir probably won’t care much. They’re on the lookout for meat and tend to avoid plants regardless.

Adding plants to your tank is something you’ll do more for yourself than for your pet. 


Breeding these fish is usually done at the professional level. Doing it at home is hard. 

They’re known to breed during the rainy season, and changing conditions are believed to be part of the reason why they’re more likely to breed. The pH levels of the water get lower, as does the water temperature. 

The male gently nudges the female in an interesting chase. Eggs will be deposited on the bottom of the tank when it successfully occurs. To avoid the adults eating the eggs, you’ll want to remove them. 

Buying dinosaur bichirs

The difficulty in breeding them means most that are sold are wild-caught. They’ll need to be specially ordered, and many shops often don’t have them in stock. 

Infections and parasites are more common in wild-caught fish, and the bichir is no exception. Quarantine the fish for a few weeks to ensure they won’t ruin your existing fish tank. 

90 gallon aquarium in the corner


In this article, we’ve looked at how to care for dinosaur bichirs. It includes a lot of different aspects, and among them are their:

  1. Tank size
  2. Plants
  3. Full-grown size
  4. Food & diet
  5. Breeding
  6. Behavior

We hope this article has encouraged you to move ahead and try out these impressive fish in your tank.

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