How to Care for Dinosaur Bichir?

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If you’re bored with the normal tank fish available, welcome. Allow me to introduce to you Dinosaur Bichir, one of the most peculiar and un-Orthodox fish species you can get.

If you’re not familiar with this species, here are some fast facts to consider:

  • This is a carnivorous bottom-dweller that exhibits predatorial behavior and can kill and eat a diversity of aquatic life
  • While they are generally peaceful, Bichirs are often extremely territorial
  • They possess lungs and can breathe atmospheric air via their spiracles which are slits located on the top of their heads
  • They can also breathe atmospheric air via their mouths if the water is deep enough to allow them to tilt their bodies
  • Bichirs can live in swamp-like conditions since they have adapted to live in poorly-oxygenated waters
  • Dinosaur Bichirs are also called Swamp Dragons, Dragon Bichir, or Dragon Fin due to their hybrid appearance
  • Dinosaur Bichirs look like a mix between an eel, fish, snake, and a tetrapod

Now that you know some of the essentials let’s assess this species’ requirements.

Dinosaur Bichir Species and Types

All Bichir species are very similar in body composition. The only areas where they differ are in color and color patterns.

In this sense, we have:

  • Ornate Bichir – One of the most attractive Bichirs in the family. The fish displays black and yellow markings covering its entire body and fins. The coloring most likely functions as camouflage, rendering the Bichir almost invisible when laying against a rock near the substrate. It also helps that the fish is nocturnal, in typical Bichir fashion, which contributes to its defensive mechanisms. The Ornate Bichir can reach 24 inches in captivity, making it one of the largest species of Bichirs.
  • Delhezi Bichir – This species shares many similarities with the Ornate Bichir, especially in look. The color pattern is similar, except it also contains green stripes mixed among the black and yellow. Just as with the first species, this one uses its color pattern to become nearly invisible near the substrate on a gravel bed. Expect your Delhezi Bichir to grow up to 17-18 inches with proper care.
  • Saddled Bichir – The Saddled Bichir is the true monster of this species. This beast can reach 30 inches in length and packs the most prehistoric look you can get out of a Bichir. The massive tail, along with its dorsal and caudal spiky fins, makes for quite an impressive look.

There are other species as well, including the Albino Bichir packing a snow-white body and red eyes. It all boils down to your preferences and tank setup.

Remember, you need a lot of space to house a Dinosaur Bichir due to the fish’s size, growth rate, and temperament.

Dinosaur Bichir Requirements

Knowing how to accommodate the Dinosaur Bichir is essential for providing the fish with a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

There are several points of interest to consider regarding your Bichir’s tank setup:

Tank Size

Dinosaur Bichirs can grow to impressive proportions depending on the species, genetic background, and quality of care. These monsters can grow up to 30 inches which is already astounding by tank fish standards.

Your typical Dinosaur Bichir requires at least 90 gallons of water for itself to remain active, healthy, and be less aggressive towards its fellow tank mates.

In theory, you can keep the Dinosaur Bichir in a smaller tank, as some aquarists keep their Bichirs in tanks as little as 50 gallons

 This is obviously less than ideal, given that the Dinosaur Bichir can reach 20 inches in size, which is already almost half its habitat.

Doing so will result in 2 things:

  • Fish stress – Your Dinosaur Bichir will become stressed since it will feel trapped with too little room to move around its territory. Prolonged fish stress will affect the fish’s immune system, rendering it vulnerable to health problems, especially parasitic infections and bacteria.
  • The fish may escape – Dinosaur Bichirs hate tight spaces, so they might feel the need to leave. If the tank is too small, your Bichir may find it quite easy to simply jump out. These are long, massive, and powerful fish, capable of propelling their bodies with immense force. A Dinosaur Bichir can easily jump out of the tank and even push a lighter lid out of the way.

The tank’s size is the most important factor to consider when looking to accommodate your Dinosaur Bichir. You need at least 90-100 gallons for one adult specimen and at least 125 gallons for 2.

If you’re looking to form a community tank setup, you might need to increase the tank’s size even more, depending on the fish species to come.

You should also consider the tank layout. If you plan on adding rocks, plants, and various decorative elements, you need even more extra space.

Water Parameters

Dinosaur Bichirs enjoy a water temperature of around 77 to 84 F since they’re tropical fish, and fond of warmer waters.

There is some available wiggle room here, as the temperature can drop to 72 without your Bichir showing any significant signs of discomfort.

But, for the most part, the temperature needs to remain stable to prevent health problems.

The pH is best between 6.0 and 8.0 roughly, although some people recommend a maximum value of 7.5.

The core takeaway here is that not all species of Bichirs abide by the same water parameters. Some have slightly different preferences, depending on the conditions found in their natural habitat.

Make sure you learn about your Bichir’s favorite water parameters to prevent your fish from experiencing health problems along the way.

Substrate

Use sand. Many aquarists use gravel, but this can cause issues due to the Dinosaur Bichir’s feeding behavior. Bichirs are both predators and opportunistic feeders, which is another way of saying they look for food opportunities on the substrate.

They use a suction motion to suck in the substrate and various life forms and organic matter that they can feed on.

Sand doesn’t pose any problems in this sense since the Bichir will spit it out easily. Even if some sand particles get swallowed, the Bichir won’t have any issues since its digestive system will eliminate them easily.

Gravel, on the other hand, doesn’t work like that. Since the rock particles are larger, the Bichir may choke on them.

Many Dinosaur Bichirs have found their painful end in gravel tanks due to their owners’ lack of awareness regarding the dangers.

Besides that, your Dinosaur Bichirs may also need some plants around the substrate for hiding purposes and a more natural look. Don’t bother yourself with setting up rocky systems or adding any additional decorative elements, though.

Your Bichir is a large creature that constantly enjoys swimming and roaming its habitat. The extra elements would just take up vital space that your Bichir could put to good use.

That being said, many Bichir keepers have found great success with rock setups, providing their Bichirs with plenty of hiding areas.

They do enjoy hiding in their safe spaces occasionally, especially to take cover from bright lights.

After all, this is a nocturnal predator.

Vegetation

Fortunately, Dinosaur Bichirs are pretty peaceful and mindful of their surroundings. They don’t disturb the substrate too often, and they’re pretty gracious in their movements, so they won’t hit plants or other tank decorations.

This means you can decorate their tank the way you seem fit, so long as the elements don’t take up too much space.

When it comes to plants, the sky is the limit. Many people use rooted plants like cryptocoryne, Amazon swords, red tiger lotus, dwarf Sagittaria, etc., while others use floating vegetation like java moss.

Personally, I would steer more towards rooted plants than floating ones. That’s because the Dinosaur Bichir is an obligate breather, which means it needs access to atmospheric air.

The Dinosaur uses its mouth or its head spiracles, similar to those found in whales, to extract oxygen from the air. This means it will occasionally swim to the water’s surface to breathe.

Having too many floating plants can prevent the Bichir to get to the water’s surface with ease, which could cause it to drown.

I would say avoid floating plants altogether or, at least, keep them at a minimum.

Equipment

There is an entire debacle on this topic since many aquarists believe that Dinosaur Bichirs don’t need filtration or any regular maintenance to remain healthy.

While this argument has some weight, it’s not quite valid, and I will explain why.

The Dinosaur Bichir’s biology has indeed adapted to foul water conditions since Bichirs are often found thriving in swampy areas.

In those situations, the water quality is less than ideal, as you can imagine. Bichirs can live in such a murky environment thanks to their ability to breathe atmospheric oxygen at the water’s surface.

They are also quite hardy, so they can withstand poorer water conditions easier than other fish. However, this hardiness doesn’t translate to a closed system like an aquarium for one simple reason – ammonia.

Ammonia and nitrites result from decaying organic matter and fish waste decomposing in the water.

This isn’t a problem in nature since the fish’s habitat is open and will spread out the chemicals, diluting and neutralizing them.

In a tank, the chemicals have nowhere to go. Without a filter, they will just spike fast, poisoning the system and killing your fish. You absolutely require a filtering system to prevent that.

When it comes to a large, 100-gallon+ tank, you might want to consider 2 filtering systems to prevent excessive power currents and ensure adequate filtration power.

A heater is also necessary to provide your Dinosaur Bichir with stable water temperatures.

After all, this fish is a tropical creature enjoying warmer waters. Sudden or abrupt temperature fluctuations don’t sit well with Bichirs.

Dinosaur Bichir Feeding and Diet

Dinosaur Bichirs are carnivorous predators that thrive on protein-rich diets. Nothing about the Dinosaur’s diet is too convoluted or difficult to understand.

There are plenty of protein-rich fish food sources you can use to keep your Bichir full and satisfied. It’s the Bichir’s feeding behavior where things get a bit spicier.

If you’ve never had a Dinosaur Bichir before, you can’t apply your knowledge about other fish species’ feeding behavior to this one.

In essence, here’s what to know about feeding your Dinosaur Bichir correctly:

  • Nocturnal predator – The Dinosaur Bichir is a nighttime eater. Don’t try to feed the Bichir during the daytime since it will simply ignore the food. Fortunately, Bichirs only eat once per day, 2 times at most in case you’re feeding them smaller portions. So, you won’t have to get up at night to feed your fish.
  • Predatorial instincts – In theory, you can feed your Bichir pellets and meat-based flakes, but I wouldn’t recommend it. This isn’t a regular carnivorous fish but a predator. It feels most comfortable when hunting its food. This behavior keeps the Bichir active, energetic, and entertained. I recommend only feeding your Bichir live food, preferably larger than its mouth. This will force the Bichir to resort to its death roll to break the food into pieces. It is the same feeding behavior found in alligators which bite their prey and roll violently to rip it into chunks. Aside from being an interesting spectacle to follow, this feeding behavior is also beneficial for your Bichir.
  • Diversity matters – Dinosaur Bichirs require animal protein from different sources. These include crustaceans, worms, fish meat, and even amphibians. Diversity is key when discussing the Dinosaur’s diet since it allows the animal to find all the protein it needs to remain healthy and in good condition.
  • A slow eater – If you pair your Dinosaur Bichir with faster and more energetic fish, these will eat the Dinosaur’s food. The Dinosaur Bichir is a slow eater who likes to take its time. Always make sure your Bichir eats well, otherwise, it may experience health problems along the way. Not to mention, starvation can activate its predatorial instincts, even more, causing it to attack its tank mates.

That being said, you can experiment with your Dinosaur’s food. Provide it with various food sources, including in terms of size, and learn what it likes and what it doesn’t.

Not all Bichirs will prefer the same foods, eat as much, or exhibit the exact same feeding behavior.

Dinosaur Bichir Tank Mates

Fortunately, Dinosaur Bichirs are reasonably peaceful creatures, although they can exhibit some territorial behavior occasionally.

Nothing to worry about, though, since they aren’t violent creatures.

As general rules, here’s what to consider when searching for the ideal tank mates for your Bichir:

  • The fish’s size – Dinosaur Bichirs will eat anything that fits their mouths. Sometimes they will even attack slightly larger fish if they feel they can handle them. So, always make sure their tank mates are considerably larger than Bichir’s natural prey.
  • The fish’s temperament – You don’t want overly aggressive fish since these can stress out your Dinosaur Bichir. Look for somewhat peaceful species that like to keep to themselves. They shouldn’t be too territorial either for the same reasons.
  • The fish’s water requirements – This is pretty much a given. The Bichir’s tank mates should prefer similar water conditions to prevent health issues along the way. Look for fish species that thrive in tropical conditions and always make sure they’re fit for living in a Bichir-specific environment.
  • The fish’s feeding behavior – If the Bichir’s tank mates are too energetic and snappy, they might eat all of its food. Bichirs are naturally slow eaters, so it’s always a bad idea to pair them with overly energetic and fast fish.

Based on all these factors, some compatible tank mates for your Bichir include:

You can also pair Bichirs with other Bichirs. These fish aren’t exactly too territorial or aggressive, and they have a pretty well-developed social behavior.

Just make sure your Bichirs have sufficient space to prevent fish stress and even violent behavior along the way.

Dinosaur Bichir Diseases and Treatments

Fortunately, you can’t get a hardier fish than the Dinosaur Bichir. This fish is used to live in foul water conditions, so its immune system has developed accordingly.

You shouldn’t worry about your Bichir contracting any dangerous conditions, so long as you clean its environment and provide it with a nutritious diet.

That being said, this species can struggle with skin parasites occasionally. One noticeable worm called Macrogyrodactylus Polyptery likes to target Bichirs specifically.

The good thing is that, since your Dinosaur Bichir lives in a closed environment, the parasite shouldn’t be a concern.

But infections may happen due to introducing a sick fish into the habitat or via unclean equipment or newly-purchased plants.

In this case, knowing how to eliminate the pathogen is essential for your Bichir’s health.

First, you must identify the infection. This worm is an external parasite that will latch onto your Bichir’s skin and is visible to the naked eye.

Your Bichir will also display rubbing behavior due to the itching accompanying the condition.

To set up the ideal treatment, consider the worm’s primary weaknesses:

  • It cannot live without a host for more than several days
  • Aquarium salt will kill it
  • It cannot live in high water temperatures (above 88-89 F)

Knowing these things, you can either treat the Bichir in the main tank or quarantine it in a hospital tank during the treatment.

I recommend the latter since it allows you greater control during the treatment process.

As part of the treatment, you should:

  • Vacuum the substrate in the main tank to eliminate hidden worms and their larvae from the environment
  • After removing the substrate, soak it in boiled water to kill all pathogens
  • Raise the tank’s temperature up to 90 F in the main tank for about 4-6 days
  • Use salt to kill off any wandering parasites still floating in the tank (up to 2000 ppm)

Make sure to remove the Bichir(s) from the tank before these procedures, and always perform water changes to dilute the salt before adding them back into the tank. Bichirs can live in freshwater and brackish waters, and 2000 ppm is way too high for them.

If necessary, you can also rely on medication containing formaldehyde, provided you possess the knowledge necessary.

Regarding treating your Bichir directly, you should increase the tank’s temperature to around 84, add some salt to the tank, and use medication to kill the parasite.

However, I recommend discussing this aspect with a specialist to make sure you don’t mess it up.

How Big do Dinosaur Bichir Get?

Dinosaur Bichirs will grow up to 18-20 inches at most. Other species will get a lot larger, up to 30 in ideal conditions, while some will remain smaller, in the neighborhood of 12-14 inches.

How Long does Dinosaur Bichir Live?

Dinosaur Bichirs typically live up to 10-15 years in captivity. However, some people have claimed their Bichirs have even reached 20 years or more.

This is atypical for Bichirs, but it can happen depending on their genetic pool.

A lot of factors will influence Bichir’s lifespan, especially its water conditions and diet.

Is Dinosaur Bichir Aggressive?

Fortunately, no, Bichirs are not aggressive fish. They will spend their time near the substrate and only occasionally go to the water’s surface to get some air.

That being said, they do like to patrol their environment quite actively, especially during nighttime.

Bichirs may become stressed, irritable, and even violent towards their tank mates if they don’t have the space to do so. So, always make sure your Bichirs have enough room to go about.

And don’t pair them with smaller fish species since Bichirs will eat them. They aren’t aggressive, but that won’t stop them from attacking other fish if they look like food. And any small fish looks like food to a Bichir.

Is Dinosaur Bichir Good for Beginners?

Yes, Dinosaur Bichirs are good for beginners, but it generally depends on several factors.

If you’ve decided to invest in a Dinosaur Bichir or several, here’s what to consider:

  • The initial investment – You need at least 90 gallons of space for your Bichir. This can make for quite the investment, which isn’t always ideal for a novice aquarist. Especially since you also need to get the adequate tank equipment and the necessary decorations to make it work. But if you’re ready for that, go for it.
  • The feeding pattern – Provide your Dinosaur Bichir with healthy live food meals every night to keep the fish satisfied. And always remember to give your Bichir reasons to work for their meals. They like to stay active and exercise their hunting abilities. Also, avoid pairing them with energetic and fast eaters since they will cause your Bichir to starve.
  • Always ensure optimal water quality – If you’ve never had a Bichir before, don’t fall for the infamous claims that Dinosaur Bichirs don’t require tank maintenance. Ammonia doesn’t discriminate and will kill your fish fast. Just because Dinosaur Bichirs are used to subpar water conditions doesn’t mean their biology is immune to ammonia. Perform weekly partial water changes, clean the tank, and make sure water parameters remain within the ideal values.
  • Keeping multiple Bichirs – If you have the space for it, keeping Bichirs in pairs or small groups can be beneficial for them. These are social fish that like to bond with each other, especially since they don’t exhibit any drastic territorial behavior.

If you can accommodate all these aspects, Dinosaur Bichirs won’t ask for anything else.

Conclusion

The Dinosaur Bichir is a unique addition to any aquatic setting. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a Bichir.

This is a gorgeous tank fish with a mild temperament and unique physiology.

Provide the Bichir with optimal habitat conditions, and it will flourish into a real aquarium Dragon.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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