Ornate Bichir

Polypterus ornatipinnis

About This Animal

SIZE: Up to 2 feet (60 cm)

RANGE: Congo River Basin, Lake Rukwa Drainage, and Lake Tanganyika in east and central Africa

HABITAT: Swampy, shallow floodplains and estuaries

DIET: Feeds on worms and insect larvae when young and as adults they mainly feed on fish

ON EXHIBIT: Rivers of the World Gallery in River Journey

The ornate bichir (pronounced “bi-ker”) is a very primitive fish and is considered a living fossil.  Like their ancestors, they possess paired lungs which connect to the esophagus.  Bichirs are obligate air-breathers requiring access to surface air.  They can breathe air using a lung-like modification to their swim bladder.  This also enables them to travel on land for short periods of time using their strong pelvic fins.  They are opportunistic feeders that mainly hunt at night.  

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, bichirs are of least concern.