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Ornate Bichir: How To Care for Them

Ornate Bichir: How To Care for Them

Ornate bichir (Polypterus ornatipinnis) is a beautiful addition to your tank. The good news is they’re easy to care for with some basic knowledge of their needs.

To care for your ornate bichir, place it in a wide, shallow tank with a good filtration system. Feed it live organisms like shrimp and bloodworms. When choosing tankmates for your ornate bichir, you must select fish species that are calm and docile.

If you’re planning on bringing this beautiful fish species to your aquarium, this article is for you.

Place Your Ornate Bichir in the Right Environment

Your ornate bichir needs the right environment to thrive. If you want them to do well in your aquarium, you must create an environment similar to their habitat in the wild.

Use Wide, Covered, Shallow Tanks

Polypterus ornatipinnis prefer shallow waters and are often seen roaming around the water bed. They only come to the surface to take in air.

A suitable tank for an ornate bichir will be at least 180 gallons (681 liters). The tank doesn’t need to be tall, but it needs to be wide. Your ornate bichir will appreciate space over height. Since they only swim to the surface for regular air intake, a shorter tank will reduce the swim to the top.

However, you should cover the top of the tank with a tight lid. Polypterus ornatipinnis are high jumpers and can easily escape a short tank. However, the lid should have holes to allow air. Your fish can drown if there is no way to take in clean air.

Keep the Water Clean and Maintain an Ideal Temperature and pH Range

Ornate Bichirs are water-hardy and can live in almost all water types. However, the ideal temperature for ornate bichir ranges from 77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 28 degrees Celsius), with pH levels ranging from 6.2 to 7.8.

Most importantly, the water must be clean and well-oxygenated to reduce the possibility of infection. Your tank’s filtration system must work properly, and the water must be changed routinely.

Although you may find ornate bichir in murky waters in the wild, dirty water suffocates them in captivity. That’s why they come up often for oxygen.

Structure the Tank Bed To Suit Their Behavior

Ornate Bichirs are nocturnal creatures. During the day, they look for hideouts and coverings where they can rest. 

So, when designing your tank bed, add some growths, such as plants and shells, to make the tank more comfortable for your ornate bichir. Your fish will become very restless if it can’t find a place to hide and rest during the day.

As well as adding hideouts, you must use the right substrate. Stones and rocks are not good substrates for tanks containing ornate bichir. Sandy substrates are best for them.

Ornate bichirs often swim close to the water bed. You may also see them poking the water bed. Therefore, rocky and stony substrates can injure them.

Feed Your Ornate Bichir at the Right Time and With the Right Food

When caring for an ornate bichir, you must provide it with the right food at the right time. Though they don’t eat regular dry fish food like other species, they still require a well-balanced diet to stay healthy.

Knowing what and when to feed your ornate bichir will help you make sure that your fish gets all of the nutrients it needs.

The Best Time To Feed Your Ornate Bichir

The best time to feed Ornate Bichirs is at night. They’re nocturnal creatures and are more active at night than during the day. You may also feed them early in the evening. They eat once or twice a day. If you feed them well early in the evening, you don’t have to feed them twice.

What To Feed Your Ornate Bichir

Ornate bichirs are carnivores and generally don’t regular dry fish. They feed on live organisms such as:

  • Shrimps
  • Bloodworms
  • Prawns
  • Granules
  • Flakes
  • Mussels
  • Frozen foods
  • Other small live fishes

They can also feed on other weak ornate bichirs. Therefore, placing small weak ornate bichir in the same tank as their larger counterparts is not advisable. You should also separate mothers from their newborn fries.

Provide Adequate Lightning

The correct exposure to light is essential to the well-being of your ornate bichir. Ornate bichirs appreciate night and day. The natural light and dark keep them healthy. 

Therefore, in captivity, place them in a spot where they can get both natural light and darkness. If you keep their tank outside, place it under a shade. Don’t expose your ornate bichir to direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will increase the temperature of the water, making it uncomfortable for your fish.

If you’re using an artificial lighting system, turn it off at night. Ornate bichirs can become restless and aggressive if you tamper with its environment at night with artificial light.

Sort Your Ornate Bichirs According to Their Strengths

Sort your ornate bichirs according to their strengths to prevent stronger fish from preying on their weaker counterparts. 

Ornate bichirs naturally prefer isolation to socialization. They can live alone in a tank if you meet their needs. However, they can also live in a fish community. 

Some fish species that can match ornate bichirs for strength are:

Some fishes you shouldn’t pair your Ornate Bichir with include:

  • Goldfish
  • Shrimps
  • Betta fish
  • Spawning Cichlids
  • Tetras
  • Livebearers

What Is the Average Lifespan of Ornate Bichirs?

Ornate Bichirs are one of the oldest surviving species of fish. They can live in the wild for up to 20 years and up to 15 years in captivity. The lifespan of ornate bichirs in captivity depends on their living conditions.

Factors Affecting the Lifespan of Ornate Bichir

Hygiene, disease, and injury are major factors affecting the lifespan of ornate bichirs.

  • Hygiene: Poorly filtered or dirty tanks can cause diseases. You need to clean your ornate bichir’s tank regularly and keep the water fresh. 
  • Disease: One major disease that can affect ornate bichir is Ich disease. Ich disease begins as a white spot on the skin, which can grow and cover the skin if left unchecked.
  • Injury: Ornate bichirs can also get injured. If you notice any injury on your fish, you should remove it from the rest. That injury may get infected and lead to the death of the fish. 

If you notice an ornate bichir lying for too long by its side at the bottom of the tank, you should check it. It may be injured, diseased, or dying.

Remove injured, diseased, or dead ornate bichir from the tank immediately after you notice it to avoid contamination.


Ornate bichir is a calm fish and is easy to care for. They’re nocturnal creatures, so they’re more active at night than during the day. You need to put them in the right environment, feed them with the right meals at the right time, and give them clean water. 

You shouldn’t pair them with weak small fishes because your ornate bichirs will eat them. They are carnivores and eat anything that can fit in their mouth, including their fries or that of other fishes. The best tankmates for ornate bichir are medium-sized fish that can match their strength.

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...