(Polypterus ornatipinnis)
Name: Bichir
Scientific name: Polypterus ornatipinnis
Range: Central Africa and upper and central Zaire
Habitat: Hidden among the thickets of large water plants at the margins of rivers and lakes
Status: Not threatened
Diet in the wild: Earthworms and small fishes
Diet in the zoo: Chopped beef heart and fresh beef 

   Physical description:

    The bichir is a decorated freshwater fish that has an elongated body, little but wide head, circular tail, and length about 2 ft long.  The particular characteristic that we can find in this fish is a sequence of finlets lengthwise in the back of the bichir, that may be lifted or let down.  Another characteristic is the screened body with tough rhombic scales composed of the protein named ganoin.   

   General information:

    The bichir's spawning begins when the Africans' rivers and lakes start to overflow forming marshes and swamps during August and September.  In these marshes and swamps, the bichirs pursue each other and stay together.  After they get together, the wooing initiates with the couple jumping out of the water.  Then, when the pursuit is over followed by a quick rest,  the bichir male goes on the top of the female and push her with his head or sweep her with his anal fin. Maurice and Robert Buston state that "this is said to be swollen and folded at the breeding season." (32)

   Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations: 

    This different fish at night goes out of its natural habitat between the thickets of ample water plants at the borders of rivers and lakes to feed. The bichir has lung-like swim-bladder and gills to help breathing when it comes to the surface; nevertheless, it does not bring any advantage because the bichir has to breathe again in short time.  Another physiological characteristic is a paired swim-bladder which the two parts do not have the same size. 
    The bichir has pectoral fins which is used to sustain the front part of its body almost like legs.  With this advantage, the fish can repose sustaining itself with the head lifted on these pectoral fins.   When hunting for food because the bichir is carnivorous and predator, it moves carefully toward the prey, stops, lifts the head as if smelling around, then moves again.  The hunting, specially the smelling part, is helped by the tubular nostrils that we find in this fish.

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Comments about the bichirs:

The bichir, because its primitive characteristics and other unique characteristics, is well known in terms of anatomical and evolutionary studies. The bichir has some features which make scientists think about the difference between cartilaginous and bony fishes.  Some of these features are the bony skeleton where we find a high amount of cartilage, the intestine that contains a spiral valve which is one of the emblem of shark, and the spiracles as an extra gill behind each eye.

   Personal observations:

    The bichir is a strange and old fish.  The bichir looks like a salamanders and has black bodies with bright speckles.  This fish normally does not fight with other fishes, and if you want to put a bichir in a tank it will require numbers of hiding places, and a depthless tank with approximately a foot of water.  The bichir is a really incredible fish that must be studied and protected for us.   

Sources materials and related links:

Ornate Bichir: Aquaria Central

Buston Maurice and Robert.  Encyclopedia of Fish.  New York: Crow Publisher Inc., 1975. 32.

Grzimek, Bernhard.  Animal Life Encyclopedia.  Vol. 4.  New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1974. 132-143.

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   Page author:

    Eduardo Pereira Caldas