The Polypterus Senegalus, sometimes called the Senegal Bichir, Reed Fish, Dinosaur Eel, or Swamp Dragon, is not your garden variety aquarium fish. With their serrated dorsal fins, pronounced teeth, protruding nostrils, and wide, iridescent eyes, it is easy to understand why some people call Polypterus senegalus the Swamp Dragon.

Though these fish somewhat resemble eels as well, they are not related. Any common names linking the Polypterus senegalus to eels are misnomers. These fish have characteristics that are truly unique to the Polypterus genus.

General Description

The Polypterus senegalus comes from heavily vegetated, slow-moving water systems in Africa and India. They are very common in these areas, so common, that they are often found in roadside ditches. These fish are predators that lay in wait for their prey amongst vegetation in murky waters.

These Swamp Dragons grow to be 30 cm long. These fish hunt by smell, and therefore have long, protruding nostrils (much like a dragon) to pick up the scent of their prey. The swamp dragon is covered with thick scales (unlike eels, as eels are scaleless). These scales serve as armor to protect the Swamp Dragon from injury.

The Senegalus has a modified swim bladder that acts as a primitive lung. This allows the Swamp Dragon to directly breath oxygen, and they will often shoot up to the surface for a gulp of air. These fish, as long as they stay wet, can survive for extended periods of time out of water.

Feeding

The Polypterus is not picky about its prey and will eat almost anything. Even if a fish is a bit too large to be swallowed, the Polypterus senegalus may try anyway. This is why tankmates have to be at least half the size of the swamp dragon.

My favorite food for Senegalus, that can be ordered cheaply on Amazon:

Luckily, the Senegal Birchir will eat other foods besides live feed. Pellets that sink to the bottom are readily eaten by them, as are freeze dried, frozen, and even flake foods. If Polypterus senegalus is fed primarily prepared diets, the predatory behavior they can exhibit is kept to a minimum, allowing the aquarist to keep smaller fish with the swamp dragon.

Polypterus Senegalus Bichir

The Polypterus senegalus is referred to by a number of different common names, and is often confused with eels. Swamp dragons, though, are truly unique fish, and perfect for the aquarist who wants to add a little mystery to his fish tank.

Housing

Swamp Dragons are quite hardy and can tolerate a wide variety of water conditions, but this should not be an excuse to forgo regular aquarium maintenance. Water temperatures should be between 25-29ª C.

Since the Senegal Birchir reaches a fair size, they should have an aquarium no less than 20 gallons. The Swamp Dragon is one of the few fish that are appropriate for tall and hexagonal fish tanks, because their primitive lung allows them to thrive in oxygen deprived water.

SeaClear Acrylic 50-gallon Combo Set
The SeaClear 50-gallon tank is a great option for housing a Dinosaur Bichir

This primitive lung, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, causes the Polypterus senegalus to dart up to the surface of the tank for a gulp of air. As the Swamp Dragon does this, it often shoots right out of the tank, condemned to a slow, painful death, drying out on the floor. For this reason, every gap in the hood of an aquarium meant to house the Swamp Dragon should be covered, as they seem to be able to slip out of the smallest spaces.

Though the Senegal Birchir is a voracious predator, it is an otherwise peaceful fish. Swamp Dragons can be kept in groups. As long as other fish are too big to be seen as prey (at least half the size of the Swamp Dragon) the Polypterus senegalus can coexist peacefully with other species.

Do you have any experience with the Dinosaur Bichir? Share your thoughts below!

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I just purchased a dinasaur bicher….thought it was a dragon goby (at this time I didn’t know dragon gobies were brackish) or I would have questioned what this fish really is since it was in a freshwater tank at the pet store. At the same time I also purchased 2 red tail sharks. I was told these would all be fine in the same tank, and had also mentioned I am putting these in a 20 gallon until I get the 30 gallon tank ready. In the meantime, I’ve been looking up info and when I went back to the store I was also told they never had dragon gobies…and that what I purchased was a dinasaur bicher. Now in my research I see these get much bigger..and is actually too much for even my 30 gallon tank. And in more research I am not sure that if I keep all..this dinasaur bicher may eat my red tail sharks?? Am looking for more input on this.

    • I don’t have any experience with red tail sharks. You might have problems, yes. Bichirs are not that aggressive, but they might eat smaller fish.

    • I’m sure you’ve already resolved this issue since this was in September but I wanted to give you my input. I have had my bashire since he was very small and he’s been housed with smaller fish the entire time with no problems. He even seems to be the sweetest one. Even greeting me when all the others run and hide. I have African cichlids. 2 of the fish are much smaller rainbow cichlids and they just swim around like they’re all the same thing. He actually acts like a dog greeting you when he wants fed or when you talk or anything. He walks around on his front fins like they’re legs. He is however getting very long but he’s skinny and doesn’t take up much room at all. Very good and cool fish.

    • Erm so it’s 2019 so all your issues may have been solved but my Senegal is about 9 inches and still growing. I’ve fed him pellets to shrimp to live and it’s all worked. Currently he’s in a 15 gallon tank by himself and he’s happy in that. Also red tail sharks only get about 5 to 7 inches long and they might get eaten depending on what species Bichir you got which appears to be the Senegalus species. Good luck

  2. they will eat any fish smaller than they are.I have 1 about 6 inches maybe little longer an ive been feeding it silver sides.beware what you feed it or it will grow fast.I found out the hardway.no more silversides for awhile.

  3. HELP! My bichir eats Rosy minnows as food and there are often times 2000 in the tank so he can eat as he pleases. There are also ghost shrimp in the tank that he eats whenever they give birth. In the last month My Bichir gotten huge! Is he sick, have clogged intestines, or just over eating? Please let me know, the students in my class room are very concerned (as am I.) I have photos I can share if you’ll let me know how to add them to the post.

  4. My Rex has a Turtle Tank mate and they love living with each other. Neither have any interest in each other as far as food goes, but they are happy to live together.

  5. Recently I noticed little sticky clear egg like things in the corner of my tank and my bichirs went nuts when I tried to clean the tank, what do their eggs look like?

  6. I have 2 dinosaurs. I believe one has recently become pregnant. How long is the pregnancy and should I separate them?

    • Hi Katie. Isn’t it a bloat? Senagalus don’t have internal fertilization. They just lay the eggs.

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