I have gathered the country’s top Bichir-keepers and asked them for advice on how to best care for Bichirs. These are ideas from people who from diverse walks of life and avid Bichir-keepers. Among themselves, they have an aggregate of over 100 years of Bichir-keeping experience. These are what they have to say.
Bon Joshua “Dark_Knights_99” C. Uy
Bon is an IT professional who works as MIS Technical Support of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. He is from Quezon City and has been a Bichir-keeper since 2002, but has kept fishes since he was five years old.
“Bichirs are really not that demanding, just give them something to eat and always do a 20% water change once a week and lots of love. Always quarantine your feeders before you feed them to your Bichirs. And choose your tankmates wisely, never put small fishes with these guys and never put very aggressive fishes with them,” says Uy.
Joaquin is a BS mechanical engineering student from De La Salle University. I met him about two years ago when he was just starting. Since then, the young man in Green who would hang out in my Blue fish place for late night fish chats has grown a collection of eight Bichirs among a collection of other monster fishes.
“Bichirs, especially the common species locally bred, are a lot easier to take care of than other fish. But this does not mean that you can just buy one and throw it into an aquarium. In order for it to adapt to its new environment quickly, you should set yo your aquarium before buying the fish. The best setting in my opinion for a Bichir would be in an aquarium with many different hiding places to help duplicate their natural habitat. Since they are bottom-dwelling fish – common hiding places for Bichirs would be under rocks, driftwood, or even plants. This would be ideal for them as they are nocturnal fish and are more active in cases where there is dim or no light.
The tank set-up should be that the Bichirs would have an easy time surfacing for air since they are similar to snakeheads where they both have specialized swim bladders used for breathing. The substrate in the aquarium should be something easy to clean such as sand or gravel. I use the common black river sand along with a lot of driftwood and rocks to keep my Bichirs feeling as close to home as possible. Lastly for food, they can eat almost anything such as prawns, guppies, goldfish, superworms, and even pellets. I recommend mixing them up rather than just sticking to one diet.”
Nestor ‘Bubutmd’ S. Calimbahin, M.D.
Doc Bubut is a family medicine practitioner from Imus, Cavite, and is deeply fascinated with Bichirs, so fascinated that he drives all the way from Cavite to my fish place on Sundays together with three generations of family. No small Bichirs for this doctor as he collects the Bichir big boys, P. lapridei, P. endlicheri congicus and P. endlicheri endlicheri, including a 22-inch monster endli.
“If you want to keep a group or a community of Bichirs in a biotope tank made specifically for Bichirs complete with rocks, driftwoods, aquatic plants and substrate, all the Bichirs in your community should be more or less of the same size regardless of the species you want to keep. Although I suggest their adult size should also approximate each other to lessen or prevent mortality due to constant bullying as well as predation among the Bichir community members.
It is also a good idea to keep a bigger group (seven or more Bichirs) rather than a small group to spread the aggression; and since most Bichirs are naturally shy and nocturnal in nature, they like to hide in those huge driftwoods during the day. If there are only a few Bichirs in your huge community tank set up, you won’t be able to see much of them during the day and even at night. So it is very wise for a Bichir keeper interested in keeping a community of these beautiful and wonderful fishes to have numerous Bichirs so you would be able to see some of them even during the day and see most of them during night time. This way you will be able to enjoy Bichir keeping even more.”
Noel A. Tatlonghari
Noel is from Sta. Rosa City, Laguna, and is a devout Bichir-keeper. I met Noel when I purchased his 24-inch P. endlicheri congicus, the biggest Bichir I ever had.
“Here are some tips for my fellow Bichir-keepers. Put them in a big tank; the bigger the tank, the much better it is. Keep tank well oxygenated. Do 30-50% water change weekly to maintain water quality. Clean your filters regularly to prevent them from getting different diseases.
If you like to get them darker, use black pebbles as substrate and use black paint in your tank background. Try to feed them with different varieties of food like beef heart, galunggong, dilis, cockroaches (lateralis and dubia), frogs, and tahong. Separate the juvenile Bichirs from the bigger Bichirs because the bigger ones might swallow and eat the smaller ones.
Bichirs are interesting specimen fish, but be aware of all the issues involved in keeping them, especially the size of the tank and the other tropical freshwater fish you have or plan to have. Bichirs also cost more to keep than other fish, though they are a very hardy breed. Keeping Bichirs in a suitable environment requires careful planning.
Ronald is a painter and part time art critic who is now currently involved in flora conservation. He hails from Quezon City. I met Ronald when we were still much slimmer… something like 10 kilos ago. He is a long time fish hobbyist and long time Rope fish-keeper.
Rope fish are slightly more difficult to keep than other Bichirs. I feed African night crawlers but they also feed on the shrimp that thrive in the pond where I keep them. They are nocturnal, very secretive. I won’t see them for many days but very rewarding when I have sighting like have your own Lochness Monster.
What I like about these ancient fish is that in the pond, they are actually colorful-olive green with bright orange belly.
Chris ‘Kid’ Soon
Chris is a businessman from Taguig and vice president of mypahls.com. He is a monster fish enthusiast who had to sacrifice downsizing his collection upon settling down and moving to a condominium. He is a well-respected gentleman in the fish-keeping community and an avid Bichir keeper.
“First and most important tip I could give is to research on which Bichir species you have or would want to have. Although Bichir-keeping is generally similar among conspecifics, certain Bichir species differ in activity, maximum size, and aggressiveness. This would give you a good idea on what tank size to use and which fish you would be able to keep it with successfully. Though you can get good info by googling each Bichir species, I find that fish forums provide the best way of knowing what works and what doesn’t as there are a lot of enthusiastic fish-keepers out there that are more than happy to share their experiences with the Polypterus genus.
Bichirs are nocturnal species and are most active when lights are out. So I try to provide a tank with dim lights and feed them mostly at night. Floating plants would be great for them if you could get some. They are great predators and can hunt very effectively but I try not to keep them with robust fish (e.g. cichlids and snakeheads) as they would not be able to compete for food with them. As with all my other fish, I try to feed them a varied diet of meaty foods like market shrimp and mussels. If I plan to keep them with other fish though I try to train them inn eating pellets and I find sinking pellets often work best. Lastly, to get the best colors out of my Bichirs, I try to use black background and orange to reddish bottom colored substrate. Stay away from gravel though as some Bichirs tend to choke from these.
Dominic ‘Tulalang Gar’ Lutaos
Dom is a businessman who resides in Makati City and is part of my midnight Cabinet in the fish place. I met him a few years back, and he had already been keeping Bichirs then. He is a passionate Bichir collector and is very accommodating to beginners who have shown interest in Bichirs.
“Do your weekly water changes religiously. Bichirs, though hardy, will be less prone to infections in clean living conditions. Frequent water changes and good diet promote fast Bichir growth. Bichirs are not sensitive to changes in water parameters but it is best to keep your water always in check to lessen the stress on the fish.
Watch out for tankmates. Always keep in mind the saying, ‘If it fits in the mouth, it’s food.’ Likewise, avoid aggressive tankmates. Bichirs don’t like being harassed.
James is from Marikina City and is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Bichirs. I met him when his hair was very long, when it was very short; and now that he has normal length hair and two lovely daughters, he still talks about Bichirs. He is a real Bichir fanatic who is always willing to share his thoughts on the species.
“Do not overfeed. Some species are very easy to fatten-up. In my experience, P. Senegals, P. palmas pollis, and P. endlicheri endlicheris are some examples. They will eat most anything on your feeding list and may have too much too easily if you give them the necessary amount. Over-feeding may cause regurgitation that, in turn, causes fish stress and water pollution. Maintain a modest feeding schedule. Remember, a fat fish may not necessarily be a healthy fish.
Feed different types of food. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Some stuff I’ve tried in the past four years are chicken breast, liver, gizzard, and heart; beef heart; different types of fishes and shrimp; molluscs like squid, octopus, mussels, oysters, and clams; invertebrates like roachers, spiders, crickets, and various types of worms; lizards, pinky pice, frogs, tadpoles, etc. (I even tried a very small slice of hotdog once-not recommended). Some may work well while others will only do as occasional treats. Still some wouldn’t work at all.
It is better to give more floor space instead of more height. They’re bottom-dwellers so they spend more time on the floor than anywhere else. Also, too high a tank would give them more distance to travel when going up to gulp for atmospheric air.
If you can, to enjoy your Bichirs most, avoid using them as ‘supporting actors’ in your top-dweller’s tank. They’re beautiful creatures in their own right. A lot of Polys endure substrate-less, brightly-lit deep tanks simply because those conditions are favorable for the main occupants of the tank. If conditions permit, set up a Bichir tank for them to cater to Bichir-specific needs with specs and features that would highlight their beauty.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine.