Polypterus senegalus

Senegal Bichir from Africa

09/04/2021 Off By Andy Ptyushkin

Polypterus senegalus, the Senegal Bichir, Gray Bichir or Cuvier’s Bichir, and sometimes called the «Dinosaur Eel» (a misnomer, as the creature is neither an eel nor a dinosaur) also called «Dinosaur Bichir» or «Dragon Fish» is in the pet trade due to its lungfish-like appearance which was described as more primitive and prehistoric than other modern fishes. It is a prototypical species of fish in the genus Polypterus, meaning most of its features are held across the genus. Commonly kept in captivity by hobbyists. They are native from Africa where they are the most widespread species of the genus.

This species of bichir is found in lakes, river margins, swamps, and floodplains of tropical Africa and the Nile river system, it occurs in at least twenty-six African countries which include Senegal, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Sudan, Nigeria, Gambia, Uganda, and others. Its distribution is widespread, detailed to include the Nile basin and West Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Volta, and Lake Chad basins, and Congo River Basin.

River Nile

River Nile

An incredibly hardy, nocturnal species with very poor vision, Polypterus senegalus, relies on its excellent sense of smell to locate food. This species, along with others of its genus, are some of the last surviving relatives of very ancient species. Fossils of earlier relatives have been found that date back to the Triassic Period, which occured during the early development of the dinosaurs more than 200 million years ago.

They have several interesting adaptations. The swim bladder is divided into 2 parts, of which the right hand section is considerably larger. This functions as an accessory breathing organ and means the fish can survive out of water for some time, provided it is kept moist. Like Ananbantoid species, this fish may actually drown if it is denied access to atmospheric air.

This, coupled with their nocturnal mode of hunting, in which they emerge from their daytime refuges to hunt invertebrates and small fish in shallow water clearly exhibit the link these species form between fish and amphibians.

This is one of the more peaceful and active species Polypterus and is recommended for beginners with these fish. It is very long-lived and individuals have been known to survive for over 30 years in aquaria.