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Polypterids (Bichirs and Ropefish)

The Polypteridae are primitive, snake-like fish from Africa. They are predatory and essentially carnivorous, but largely opportunistic feeders. They are able to breathe air via a lung-like modification to their swim bladder, and can travel over land using their strong pelvic fins. For this reason, a tight-fitting lid is recommended for the aquarium, to prevent any escapes.

The are two genera: the genus Erpetoichthys contains only one species - E. calabaricus, known as the Rope or Reed Fish. The other genus contains the Polypterus species (bichirs), of which there are more than a dozen species and subspecies described . The more commonly encountered ones are described below.

More information on Polypterids can be found on The Tropical Tank's new sister website,!

Scientific nameCommon nameSizeOrigin
Erpetoichthys calabaricusRopefish36" (92cm)West Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria
Polypterus delheziArmoured bichir14" (35cm)Central Africa: Congo river, Upper and middle Congo
Polypterus ornatipinnisOrnate bichir24" (61cm)Central and East Africa: Congo river basin, Lake Tanganyika
Polypterus palmasMarbled bichir12" (30cm)Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea
Polypterus senegalusSenegal bichir16" (40cm)Africa: East, West and central






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