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Bichirs

Posted by TFH Magazine in Tropical Fish Hobbyist Blog on August 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

Bichir _Polypterus endlicherii_. Photograph by Ed Wong.

By David E. Boruchowitz

There’s a nice video of a tankful of bichirs feeding on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAleBB9AIb8. It’s been up for four years and has gotten about 15,000 hits, but it’s still getting comments. There are several things I like about it:

  • It has bichirs! (Pronounced like “bikers.”) These fascinating living fossils give us a glimpse of what fish looked like shortly after their main lineage split off from the lineage that gave rise to lobefin fishes and tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals). They have both gills and lungs and look and act a great deal like salamanders.
  • There are 20 bichirs in a 90-gallon tank. I certainly hope the owner has farmed them out to other tanks as they grew, but I always enjoy seeing that I’m not the only hobbyist who gets carried away at times with a favorite group of fish!
  • The aquarist is feeding them what looks like fresh fish meat. In any case, it’s not live goldfish! Feeder fish are never a good choice for predator diets.
  • The video clearly shows that the fish are finding the food by smell and touch, not sight. They are very good at ferreting out every last morsel of food, but their tiny eyes hardly contribute to the effort.
  • At the end it shows one of the largest bichirs head to the surface for a breath of air. These fish are obligate air breathers, meaning they must breathe air to survive, and their tanks need to have an airspace at the top. (They also need a sturdy and secure cover, since they will definitely escape if given an opening large enough—which is probably not as large as you think!
  • Last but not least, the video shows what the books (and my experience) say is impossible: bichirs of quite different sizes kept together. Bichirs normally will eat any animal small enough to swallow, including their own kin. The few times they’ve been spawned in captivity, cannibalism was a constant problem as the fry grew at different rates. As of the time of the making of this video, these very well fed fish hadn’t started to dine on each other, but I wonder if the peace lasted…

Take a look at the video, and if you’ve got the tank space, maybe try some of these fantastic fish!


Posted in Aquatic Videos and David E. Boruchowitz by TFH Magazine on August 22nd, 2011 at 11:15 am.

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