When one talks about sizes Bichirs attain, one can generally group them into two: Those that grow from 10 to 12 inches, and those that grow over 24 inches. So what we have here are those that grow to about a foot in length, and those over two feet, or those you find small and those you call monsters.
One of these monsters is the Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri (pronounced “poll-it-er-us end-lick-err-eye end-lick-err-eye”). Reports claim that these Bichirs grow up to 30 inches and girths as thick as a man’s leg in the wild. Now that would be a very impressive specimen in the home aquarium, a very large one you must have though. The thought of having such specimen in your own tanks is not farfetched and is a definite probability.
The P. endlicheri endlicheri is quite popular in the country and its availability is now regular as compared to about 6 or 7 years ago when it was extremely rare. All year round one is almost certain to find stocks available in a typical fish store. Currently, I believe the stocks that are in the market are still imported, most coming from Indonesia where they have a huge captive breeding program of this species. The rest are wild-caught from African supply countries or via Germany.
I have not heard of locally bred P. endlicheri endclicheri, the reason I believe is due to the fact that maybe no one has stocks that are mature enough to be of breeding age. Considering that we’ve only had them some 6 years ago, then those that arrived in the initial shipments in 2004 would still be quite young as P. endlicheri endlicheri are known to reach sexual maturity in about 8 to 10 years.
P. endlicheri endlicheri was first described by Heckle in 1847. The species P. endlicheri endlicheri is further classified into two subspecies: the P. endlicheri endlicheri and the P. endlicheri congicus, a fish not as popular as the former, with bands thinner and lighter in color and reputedly grows even bigger. The P. endlicheri congicus is rarely encountered in the aquarium as supply is irregular and quite few.
The P. endlicheri endlicheri has been given a few common names. In other countries it is known as the Saddled Bichir or the Red Bichir. In the Philippines, it is called the Giant Banded Dragonfin, Giant Tiger Dragonfin, or simply, Endli.
As with all Polypterus species, the P. endlicheri endlicheri is found in Africa. Its distribution is quite widespread throughout Africa and is found in the river systems and other bodies of water in Chad, Nile, Niger, Volta, Bandama, Coemoe and Oueme. They inhabit the muddy and weedy waters.
Aside from the impressive size of the P. endlicheri endlicheri another feature that attracts hobbyists to keeping this is its beautiful markings. It has thick dark vertical bars over a beige body. These markings start from the dorsal area and extend just before the ventral area. These markings are called saddle since they are generally thick on top and much thinner below. When viewed from the side you may agree that these marking do look like saddles. Generally these bands are arranged vertically, but sometimes appear more abstract in some specimens. Usually there are 4 to 6 bands present.
Sporadic dark spots may also adorn the head, body, fins and tail. The contrast of dark markings on a light colored body makes the P. endlicheri endlicheri a very beautiful fish.
Another impressive trait is its dorsal fin. It has a lot of finlets compared to other Bichir species. It has about 14 to 17 dorsal finlets that almost cover the entire length of its back. These individual finlets are also quite long and wide.
Like all bichirs, the soft dorsal fin is connected to the caudal fin. But it is also wider and longer than most, to a point it is flag-like especially as it waves while swimming.
The P. endlicheri endlicheri is a lower jaw bichir since the lower jaw is more prominent than the upper jaw. This lower jaw extends over the upper jaw making it look superior (a term used to describe a mouth pointing in front) on a large head. With mature specimen, the lower jaw noticeably thick and heavy.
Care for the P. endlicheri endlicheri in the aquarium is the same as with other bichirs. Bichirs are one of the easiest fishes to keep. You don’t need to be an expert fish hobbyist to be successful in keeping them. Keep water parameters normal and avoid the extremes are basically the only things to keep in mind. So pH of about 6.25 to 7.5 hardness of about dH 5.0 to 10.0 and temperatures between 24 to 30°C are ideal. These conditions are easily available to hobbyists across the country.
Bichirs are also hardy fishes and the P. endlicheri endlicheri is no exception. A big tank with an adequate filter and 20% weekly water change will make you a master fish keeper. Even when water conditions are bad, the P. endlicheri endlicheri would most likely pull through. The only reason for Bichirs to die prematurely is when it jumps out of the tank. P. endlicheri endlicheri is a very good jumper. So care must be practices in securing the tank cover.
Feeding is an activity the P. endlicheri endlicheri will never back out from. It is a voracious eater and is easy to feed. It is a carnivore and requires to be given meat from fish, shrimp, mussels, chicken, pork, etc. It is not finicky and will consume both live and fresh food.
The challenge in keeping P. endlicheri endlicheri however, is when it gets bigger. At this huge size, the demands will be greater. Its size will impose a lot of demands to the hobbyist. First and foremost is the tank size. When you have a 20-inch P. endlicheri endlicheri, a 75-gallon tank will prove too small. Sure, it would look like a 20-inch, hardly-moving, always-sitting-at-the-bottom fish would fit well in a tank with a footprint of 48 inches x 18 inches. Yes it seems to do well since it is a hardy fish anyway. But to keep the tank in optimum water conditions will turn out to be lots of work for the hobbyist. A 20-inch P. endlicheri endlicheri will create a lot of bioload. If left unchecked, it will easily spoil the water. Thus, your 75-gallon tank may prove too small.
Moster P. endlicheri endlicheri are better kept in much larger tank like a 180-gallon tank measuring 6 feet x 2 feet x 2 feet. A stronger filtration system will now be imposed on the hobbyist. Decoration-wise, you will have to consider using bigger driftwood and heavier rocks because you don’t want the P. endlicheri endlicheri to be tossing them around the tank every time it swims.
Most importantly, is your tank cover. Forget about the 1/8 inch or 3mm thick glass covers that are usually supplied by shops. They are useless to use with monster P. endlicheri endlicheri. P. endlicheri endlicheri can easily break this cover with a single jump. It is a very strong fish and catching one in facts is like a wrestling match. Thus, you will have to consider buying thicker glass covers just to keep it in the tank.
The most challenging demand that a huge P. endlicheri endlicheri offers is feeding. It will require much more food, and it seems that it is always hungry. With more food offered, this means there will be much more bioload in the tank. If the bioload is heavy, then this would mean more maintenance on your part. But as in any challenges, once you are able to overcome these, then the rewards will be much greater. Believe me owning a monter P. endlicheri endlicheri is going to be the envy of your peers.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine.