Strange looking animals always catch my attention. Usually I picture fish like goldfish – fin, tail and a big smile on their face. And yes, there’s lots of fish in the world like that, but there’s also a huge variety of shapes and sizes in the fish world. Although today’s animal, the bichir, is by no means the weirdest looking fish out ther

Bichirs are part of the family Polypteridae, along with another group of fish called reedfish. This family is a very old one in the fish evolutionary timeline, with bichirs retaining many ancestral traits. They live in freshwater, in tropical Africa. They inhabit swampy areas, such as floodplains and estuaries.

Bichirs are also known as dragon fish because of their dragon-like appearance.
Image by Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bichir’s are long fish, looking a little bit like eels. They have many dorsal fins, which range in number from seven to eighteen. The dorsal fins all have spines on them, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to grab a biter from the top – you’re going to get hurt. Especiallyy since bichirs can get quite big, reaching lengths of almost a meter. As I mentioned, bichirs have characteristics that are primitive compared to other bony fish. Their pectoral fins resemble those found in lobe-finned fishes, and these are often used to ‘walk’ along the riverbed. They also have spiracles used to exhale air, and a pair of lungs.

These lungs are one of the things that make bichirs so cool – they have to breathe air to survive. This is useful for the fish, as they inhabit waters that are often low in oxygen, so water-breathing fish would have some trouble surviving. Instead, the bichir just has to come to the surface and take a nice deep breath, and then it’s good to go.

Bichirs are popular aquarium fish, as they are nice and pretty, and fairly docile. I’ve never really been all that into aquaria, but if I was, I think I’d look into getting one of these guys. They’re pretty cool!

Cover image by Steven G. Johnson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons