Last update: November 14, 2023

11 Best Senegal Bichir Tank Mates – FishLab

The Sengal bichir (Polypterus senegalus) is a long, slender fish, that resembles an eel. This non-flashy, dull-looking fish has a prehistoric appearance. With scientists estimating its existence about 60 million years ago during the Mesozoic era, it makes sense that it is commonly known as the “Dinosaur Bichir.” It’s this archaic, dinosaur-like appearance that makes them desirable and unique fish to have in an aquarium.

If you plan to keep one of these, it’s imperative you know about them before adding to your tank. We’ll discuss 11 Senegal bichir tank mates along with their proper care and what you can expect. While there are a few different types of bichirs, the Senegal is the most common for aquarists. Just prepare yourself to own a massive tank and stay on top of maintaining water parameters.

What You Need to Know

The Senegal bichir (also known as dinosaur bichir, dragonfish or swamp dragon) is a native throughout Africa’s tropical regions. What makes them so special is their unique appearance and a swim bladder that allows them to take up air at the water’s surface.

They have powerful, long bodies with dorsal finlets. These finlets are double-edged and can have as little as seven to as many as 18. Their bodies are lined with bony scales that are very strong, sturdy and durable. Not only does it protect them from predators, but it also adds to their prehistoric appearance.

They aren’t flashy or showy looking like cichlids or betta fish are. They’re a dull gray, black or brown with powerful pectoral fins that actually allow them to move over land, letting them act as “legs.”


For such an ancient species like the Senegal bichir, they’re quite peaceful and easy to care for. They can handle living in any community tank and hold their own against somewhat more aggressive tank mates. Their strong fins and hard bodies are often a great deterrent to other aggressive fish.


In the wild, Senegal bichirs can get as long as 38 inches but tend to only reach 16 to 18 inches in captivity. This is still very large for the average fish keeper, so make sure you have a large enough tank.


Senegal bichirs are very peaceful fish and often just mind their own business swimming around the tank. It’s very rare for them to be aggressive with their neighbors. If they are, it’s because of instigation from their tank mates. They usually don’t initiate such behavior. However, their tank mates should be large so they don’t mistake them for food.

Parameters & Tank Setup

Because they come from the African tropics, Senegal bichirs frequent places like swamps, marshes and lagoons. They love dense vegetation, a muddy substrate and plenty of murky hiding places. They are most active at night, when they come out to hunt for crustaceans, mollusks, small frogs, larvae, insects and other small fish.

Also, because of how powerful they are and their ability to breath air at the surface, they will jump out of the tank. So, you must secure a tight-fitting lid to prevent them from escaping. Because of their long bodies, they must have a tank capacity of at least 55 gallons with dimensions that are six feet long, two feet wide and two feet high.

The tank’s water shouldn’t reach the top so they can get some air at the surface from time to time. Believe it or not, if they don’t get adequate air access, they could drown. Senegal bichirs are known to accidentally ingest gravel when eating which causes blockages in their digestion, so they need a soft, sandy and/or muddy substrate with plenty of plants and decorations in which to hide. The tank should also have dim lighting along with blue moon light to accommodate their nocturnal habits.

  • Filtration: gentle
  • pH Balance: 6 to 8
  • Temperature: 77°F to 84°F

Senegal Bichir Diet and Feeding

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As carnivores, Senegal bichir thrive on a diet of live foods including worms, crickets, shrimp, and small feeder fish. Frozen foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and mysis shrimp also make excellent options. 

Only give them food that they can consume in 2-3 minutes because uneaten food will foul the water.

Senegal Bichir Breeding and Reproduction

Breeding Senegal bichir requires a large tank of at least 100 gallons with soft sand or smooth gravel substrate. Make sure you lower the water level to 6-10 inches and maintain a pH of 6-7. 

Increase feeding frequency and temperature to 82-86°F to induce spawning. The male constructs a nest by fanning out a depression in the substrate with his pectoral fins. 

After courtship, the female lays up to 60 eggs which the male then fertilizes. Just ensure to remove the parents after spawning to prevent them from eating the eggs. 

Senegal Bichir Diseases and Health Issues

Senegal bichirs are hardy but can develop illnesses like ich, fin rot, anchor worms, intestinal worms, and skin flukes. Quarantine the new fish to avoid introducing disease. 

Use a hospital tank to treat sick fish. Maintain excellent water quality and reduce stress. Early diagnosis and treatment are key. Salt, increased temperature, antibiotics, antiparasitic and antifungal medications may be used for treatment under guidance from a fish veterinarian.

Also, be very careful to introduce bichir tank mates that won’t give them disease but will be compatible with them. 

Senegal Bichir Expected Lifespan  

With proper care, Senegal bichirs can live 10 years or longer in captivity. Key factors impacting their lifespan include tank size, water quality, varied diet, and disease prevention. 

You should avoid drastic temperature fluctuations and poor water conditions. An adequately sized tank reduces territorial aggression and competition for resources which supports longevity.

Senegal Bichir Handling and Care

Senegal fish can jump, so use a tightly fitting lid. When you’re netting them, support the belly as their pectoral fins are delicate. Limit handling as they have a protective mucus coat. Acclimate new senegalus bichir slowly over 30-60 minutes. 

Have a well-sanitized quarantine tank for the new Senegal fish tank mates. Watch out for signs of stress like paleness, loss of appetite, increased hiding, labored breathing, and skittishness.

Albino Senegal Bichir

The albino Senegal bichir is a fascinating fish for any aquarist. These primitive looking ray finned fishes come from Africa and have an elongated, eel-like body shape that lets them hide among rocks and plants in the wild. 

They have dorsal and anal fins that run almost the entire length of their body. These fins can reach up to 12 inches long in captivity.

The varieties of Albino Senegal fish are white with pink or red eyes. This is due to the lack of melanin. This rare morph stands out against the typical gray or olive coloring of wild Senegal bichirs.

Senegal Bichir Tank Mates

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1. Oscar Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Astronotus ocellatus
  • Adult Size: between 12 and 14 inches
  • Compatible with: Bichirs, Jack Dempsey Fish, Silver Dollar Fish, Chocolate Cichlids, Plecos
  • Care Level:  Easy/Beginner to Moderate/Intermediate
  • Origin: South America

Oscar fish are very popular to have in a home aquarium as a Senegal bichir tank mate. They’re hardy, personable and have a lot of character. They are large predators and can become aggressive if their tank conditions are less than desirable. If the tank is too small, has too many mates or is too dirty, they will get incredibly territorial.

2. Silver Dollar Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Metynnis argenteus
  • Adult Size: Up to six inches
  • Compatible with: Any other peaceful breed of fish; Plecos, Bichirs
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: South America

Silver dollar fish are one of the best tank mates for a Senegal bichir. They are never aggressive and prefer schooling with others of their own kind. They don’t bother anyone else living in their habitat, being easy to care for and quite active.

3. Clown Loaches

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  • Scientific Name: Chromobotia macracantha
  • Adult Size: About 12 inches
  • Compatible with: Neon Tetras, Angelfish, Bolivian Rams, Kuhli Loaches, Bristlenose Plecos, Cherry Barbs
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: Indonesia; Borneo & Sumatra

There are two points to clown loaches that make them an ideal roommate for Senegal bichirs. The first is how they are mostly active in the morning, which means it’s rare for these two species to interact. The other is how they both love to have a nice big tank with plenty of room.

4. Flowerhorn Cichlids

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  • Scientific Name: Unknown
  • Adult Size: Between 12 and 16 inches
  • Compatible with: Oscar Fish, Bristlenose Plecos, Bichirs
  • Care Level: Moderate/Intermediate  
  • Origin: Taiwan, Thailand & Malaysia

The reason why flowerhorn cichlids don’t have a scientific name is because they are a purely human-bred species and are not a natural production. But, they are good to have as tank mates for Senegal bichirs. While they are aggressive, it won’t bother the bichir unless the flowerhorn is relentless, but temperament may vary between flowerhorns.

5. Peacock Bass

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  • Scientific Name: Cichla ocellaris
  • Adult Size: Between 24 and 30 inches
  • Compatible with: Large Bichirs, Freshwater Stingrays, Silver Dollar Fish, Arowana, Equal-Sized Cichlids
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner to Moderate/Intermediate
  • Origin: South America

Peacock bass are some of the most peaceful and personable fish to have in a community aquarium. However, due to their sheer size, they have to have a tank that holds at least 200 gallons. Also, the bichir you have must be very large since the peacock bass could mistake them for dinner if they’re too small.

6. Black Ghost Knife Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Apteronotus albifrons
  • Adult Size: As much as 16 inches 
  • Compatible with: Any species larger than six inches; Cichlids, Catfish, Angelfish, Oscar Fish, Bishirs
  • Care Level: Moderate/Intermediate
  • Origin: South America 

Having a black ghost knife fish is great for Senegal bichirs. Even though these are bottom dwelling predators, they won’t bother the bichir because they tend to be a shy fish. Plus, the electrical current these fish generate combined with the appearance of the bichirs will give a fantastic ambiance at nighttime.

7. Blue Acaras

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  • Scientific Name: Aequidens pulcher
  • Adult Size: Between six and eight inches
  • Compatible with: Rainbow Cichlids, Corydoras, Plecos, Harlequin Rasboras
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: South America

These mild-mannered fish are too big for Senegal bichirs to eat and their shy demeanor means they won’t get in the bichir’s way. However, you should add these fish after your tank has matured and your bichir has made its home.

8. Hoplo Catfish

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  • Scientific Name: Megalechis thoracata  
  • Adult Size: Up to eight inches
  • Compatible with: Any medium-sized peaceful breed; Cherry Barbs, Cichlids, Black Tetras, Rainbowfish
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: South America

These active aquarium patrollers are excellent for a community tank with a Senegal bichir. Hoplo catfish are an underappreciated species in the fish-keeping world. They have enough armor to withstand an occasional nip from aggressive tank mates and are very peaceful in general.

9. Elephant-Nose Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Gnathonemus petersii
  • Adult Size: Up to nine inches
  • Compatible with: Corydoras, Honey Gourami, Angelfish, Bichirs, Discus, Congo Tetras, Sparkling Gourami, Pearl Gourami
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: West Africa

As the name suggests, these cool-looking fish get along very well with Senegal bichirs. They’re peaceful, easy to care for and their small mouths mean they won’t bother the bichirs. Aside from their incredibly interesting appearance, they utilize electro-receptors in their body to help them find food in the substrate.

10. Jack Dempsey Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Rocio octofasciata
  • Adult Size: Between six and eight inches
  • Compatible with: Blue Acaras, Plecos, Firemouth Cichlids, Angelfish, Silver Dollar Fish, Clown Loaches
  • Care Level: Moderate/Intermediate  
  • Origin: Central America; Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico

While Jack Dempsey fish are easy to care for, their aggressive temperament is not advisable for novice fish keepers. Still, they make a beautiful addition to the tank and can hold their own against other fish in their environment. You just have to keep an eye on the Bichir when they interact and immediately separate them if serious aggression occurs.

11. Black Shark

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  • Scientific Name: Labeo chrysophekadion
  • Adult Size: As much as 24 inches
  • Compatible with: Any peaceful breed inhabiting the upper and middle portions of the tank; Silver Dollar Fish, Arowanas
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner to Moderate/Intermediate
  • Origin: Southeast Asia

Black shark minnows tends to be semi-aggressive and they will attempt to engage a Senegal bichir. However, if the tank is big enough and both bottom-dwelling species have a section to claim as their own, confrontations should be infrequent.


These 11 Senegal bichir tank mates are the best choices. All of them will add a wonderful aspect to their environment while rarely bothering the bichir. In the off-chance of aggression, keep the breeds separate and ensure your tank has enough space for all the fish you have.

The only time a bichir really gets out of hand is if they find their home uninhabitable. So, as long as you meet their requirements along with any other tank mate’s needs, you will have a peaceful and beautiful aquascape.


How often should you clean the aquarium for Senegal bichirs?

You should perform a partial water change at least once per week to maintain pH balance and keep the tank clean. Always do 10% to 35% depending on how much the water parameters shift. You should never have to do more than 50%.

Is aggression common in Senegal bichirs?

Senegal bichirs are very peaceful but they are also big carnivorous fish. So, if there’s a tank mate less than six inches, they are subject to becoming dinner. It’s not that they’re aggressive, they’re hungry and following their instincts.

JJ Gills

JJ has had a passion for learning about aquatic life since age 5. As an adult, he made his passion a career as a certified aquaculture dealer and aquarium content creator.

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