The bichirs are a family, Polypteridae, of archaic-looking ray-finned fishes, the sole family in the order Polypteriformes.

Anatomy and appearance

They have thick bonelike ganoid scales and a series of 8-15 dorsal finlets instead of a single dorsal fin. Each of these finlets have a sharp spine. Their jaw structure more closely resembles that of the tetrapods than that of the teleost fishes. Bichirs have a number of other primitive characteristics. One of these such characteristics are fleshy pectoral fins similar to lobe-finned fishes. They also have spiracles. All species occur in freshwater habitats in Africa, mainly swampy, shallow floodplains and estuaries. They have rudimentary lungs, which allow them to obtain oxygen from the air when in poorly oxygenated waters, by swimming quickly to the surface and back to the bottom.

The maximum length among these species is about 90 cm, although most will not exceed much more than 30 cm.

Relationship to humans

Bichirs are popular subjects of public and large hobby aquaria. Though predatory, they are otherwise peaceful and relatively nonactive, preferring to lie on the bottom, and make good tankmates with other species that are large enough not to be prey. Some aquarists note that Loricariid catfish may attack bichirs and suck on their skin.


There are eighteen extant species and subspecies in two genera:

Extinct species include:


External links

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