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Retropinnis Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis)

Retropinnis Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis)

The Retropinnis Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis) is known to tropical fish keeping enthusiasts as the West African Bichir or Speckled Bichir and is found in the Congo River basin in Western Africa and has been recorded in Benin, Gaboon, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Ghana, and the Congo Republic.

Retropinnis Bichirs frequent the swamps, marshes, flooded forests and smaller rivers of their range and like other members of the Polypteridae family, have the ability to survive out of water for short periods as long as they are kept moist.    They posses both a modified paired swim bladder that has the function of “lungs”, as well as gills to breathe.    The right side of their swim bladder is larger than the left and is used for breathing atmospheric air.   These fish can actually drown if denied access to atmospheric oxygen.

Retropinnis Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis)

Retropinnis Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis)

Speckled Bichirs have a snakelike body with a blunt tapered head.    They are largely nocturnal and have poor vision, but an excellent sense of smell.    They are yellowish brown in color and are covered with dark patches that extend from their dorsal fin downwards over their body.

Males can be distinguished from females by their thicker anal fins.    Juvenile Polypterus retropinnis have external “water dog like” gills that disappear as the fish grows into adulthood.

In an aquarium environment when they are provided with plenty of swimming area and places for them to hide, they are not usually aggressive towards their tank mates, however, they are nocturnal hunters and will swallow any invert or fish that they can get into their mouths if they get the opportunity to do so.

Some acceptable tankmates include other Polypterus species, Synodontis cats, Datnoides, Knife Fish, larger Ctenopoma species, medium size characins and African Butterfly Fish.

They are best kept in a single species tank of at least 55 gallon capacity with a sandy or fine gravel substrate, some driftwood

bogwood roots, some rocks formed into crevices, and a few aquatic plants to suit your taste.    They prefer a dimly lit aquarium, and because they are prone to jumping, a tight fitting lid is a must.    When housed with other Bichirs, up-size their aquarium to at least 100 gallons.

Retropinnis Bichirs have not been reportedly bred in captivity, however their breeding habits are similar to other of other Polypterus species. During the rainy season, changes in water chemistry and temperature are believed to induce spawning.

If you would like to try breeding this species, provide them with a large densely planted tank with soft, slightly acidic water.    They are egg scatterers and will deposit their eggs on the vegetation or spawning mops.    Courtship involves the males chasing the female and nudging her until spawning commences.    The male cups his anal and caudal fins around the female’s genitals as he collects and fertilizes them, and then scatters them amongst the plants or breeding mops.    They will eat their eggs and should be immediately removed from the tank as soon as the eggs are scattered.

The eggs hatch out in 3 or 4 days and the fry are free swimming about 3 days later.    The fry are not very mobile so feed them microworms or newly hatched baby brine shrimp with an eye dropper to ensure they have access to plenty of food.

Retropinnin Bichirs are carnivorous by nature and will not usually accept dried foods in an aquarium environment.   They will accept live or frozen shrimp, prawns, mussels, earthworms, chopped meat or small fish. Because they are nocturnal, it is best to feed them during the evening just before turning off the lights on your aquarium.

Retropinnin Bichirs are a relatively common item in tropical fish keeping shops and are usually offered for sale when they are approximately 3″ to 6″ in length.    Prices vary and albino specimens always demand a higher price.

Retropinnis Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis)

Retropinnis Bichir (Polypterus retropinnis)






Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
Care Level: Difficult
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy
Water Conditions: 77-83° F, 5-25H, pH 6.5-8.0
Max. Size: 14″
Color Form: Tan, Yellow
Diet: Carnivore
Compatibility: Keep with others of same size
Origin: West Africa
Family: Polypteridae
Lifespan: 10 Years
Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Posted in Bichir & Ropefish, Featured Articles, Freshwater Fish, Tropical Fish SpeciesComments (1)

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