Bichirs are ancient-looking freshwater fish with elongated bodies, armor-like scales, spined fins, and the ability to breathe air. They are commonly referred to as dragon bichir.
And living up to that name, they are predatory.
The best tank mates for a Bichir are ones that are too large to become their prey. Choose tank mates that are larger than they are so that they do not get bullied. Ideal tank mates also share the same environmental needs.
Here are a few of those ideal tank mates.
Oscar Fish – Astronotus ocellatus
Large Cichlids, like Oscars, are excellent tank mates for Senegal Bichir, which reach 14 inches. Oscars are beautiful red-orange fish that originate from South America and grow 12 to 14 inches in size.
Oscars have been bred in captivity for a long time and will thrive in a wide range of water conditions. Naturally, Oscars prefer water that is mildly acidic with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. However, they can happily live in alkaline water.
Bichirs and Oscars have the same diet, making them ideal tankmates. Oscars are semi-aggressive and will not allow themselves to be bullied or eaten.
Peacock Bass – Cichla ocellaris
Peacock Bass are actually a large species of Cichlid native to South America. Because they grow to a whopping 24 to 30 inches in size, they make ideal tank mates for large Ornate Bichir that grow 24 inches long. They are peaceful fish that are not territorial.
Another reason that Peacock Bass are great tank mates for Bichir is that they are also predators and have the same dietary requirements. These fish require large aquariums.
An adult Peacock Bass needs at least a 200-gallon tank, and a single Bichir needs a 90-gallon tank. Therefore, you need a very large tank to keep them together.
Black Ghost Knifefish – Apteronotus albifrons
Black Ghost Knifefish are bottom dwellers, like Bichir, and share many other characteristics. They are predatory, nocturnal, and have poor eyesight. Growing up to 16 inches long, Knifefish are perfect tank mates for Senegal Bichir.
Knifefish will definitely pose no risk to a Bichir. They have small mouths and cannot swallow a fish as large as a Bichir.
The combination of these two species requires a lot of tank space. A 125-gallon aquarium is large enough to accommodate them.
Clown Loaches – Chromobotia macracantha
A small group of brightly colored Clown Loaches are great tankmates for Bichir. Clown Loaches reach around 12 inches when fully grown but are only 2 to 3 inches long when you buy them from aquarium shops.
As juveniles, five Clown Loaches need at least 75 gallons of tank space, but as adults, they need as much as 150 gallons. Therefore, to keep them with small Bichir, you need a large aquarium.
Clown loaches are adapted to live in the same environmental conditions as Bichir. They enjoy a sandy substrate, with lots of plants, caves, driftwood, and rocks for hiding.
Silver Dollar Fish – Metynnis argenteus
Silver Dollars are adaptable and hardy fish that can happily inhabit a tank with a Bichir. Although they are much smaller than Bichir, they are schooling fish that are active and spend most of their time in the upper levels of the tank.
Like Bichir, they have the tendency to jump out of a tank, so make sure there is a snug-fitting hood on the tank to prevent escapees!
Because of their peaceful, non-aggressive temperament and their required water parameters, they are ideal for keeping together with Bichir in a large community tank.
Silver Dollar fish should be kept in groups no smaller than 5. A small school of 5 needs at least 75 gallons of tank space and another 10 to 15 gallons more is needed for every Silver Dollar thereafter.
Flowerhorn Cichlids – Amphilophus hybrid
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is a hybrid species that was developed by crossing Red Devil and Blood Parrot Cichlids. They are typical Cichlids in terms of their aggressive temperament.
What makes these weird and wonderful fish so unique is the large hump they have on their head, especially the males. Flowerhorns are large fish that grow to around 16 inches.
They are brilliant tank mates for large Bichir species. Because Bichirs are nocturnal bottom-dwellers and Flowerhorns are active in the upper levels during the day, they are unlikely to have issues with one another.
Flowerhorn Cichlids need a large tank. A single fish requires at least 70 gallons of space, and to keep a pair, you need a 150-gallon tank. The more space they have, the less aggressively they behave.
Jack Dempsey Cichlid – Rocio octofasciata
These fish are not named after the famous boxer for no reason – they are feisty Cichlids that are hardy and tough. Jack Dempsey fish are good tankmates for smaller Bichirs because they grow to 10 to 15 inches.
They are territorial and aggressive, as most Cichlid species tend to be, and can hold their own in a tank with a Bichir. These two species are convenient to keep together because they have the same dietary and environmental needs.
Tinfoil Barbs – Barbonymus schwanenfeldii
Tinfoil Barbs are excellent tank mates for mature Bichirs because they grow so large. They can reach up to 14 inches in length, so they are definitely off the menu for any Bichir smaller than this.
Tinfoil Barbs are very active fish that school together. They are best kept in groups no smaller than 5. However, each individual requires 70 gallons of tank space, so you will need a very large aquarium to keep Bichir and Tinfoil Barbs.
Tinfoil Barbs are peaceful, easy-going fish that are not aggressive. Because they inhabit different areas in the tank to Bichir, they can happily live in a tank together. They have the same environmental needs.
Elephant-Nose Fish – Gnathonemus petersii
Elephant-nose fish are a West African species that make good tank mates for Bichirs. They are bottom-dwelling and reach around 9 inches long when mature. As juveniles, they are sold as 3- to 4-inch fish, so they can be kept with smaller Bichirs.
They enjoy the same tank conditions as Bichirs in terms of water conditions and sandy substrate. Elephant-nose fish are peaceful in nature and will not harm a Bichir.
They can prevent themselves from becoming a Bichir’s meal using the special muscle in their tail which can produce an electric shock.
Elephant-nose fish are territorial and require a large amount of tank space. A mature Elephant-nose fish needs at least 55 gallons of water. Therefore, you need a very big tank to keep these two species together.
Blue Acara – Aequidens pulcher
This bright blue Cichlid originates from slow-moving rivers in Central and South America. They are highly adaptable fish that can live in a range of temperatures.
For a Cichlid, the Blue Acara is surprisingly unaggressive and can be kept together with a Bichir. They are good tank mates for a Bichir that is of similar size. They grow up to 7 inches long.
A Blue Acara needs at least 30 gallons of tank space. They like an aquarium that has plenty of vegetation, rocks, and driftwood but need ample free space to swim around.
They have the same habitat needs as Bichir – a sandy substrate is best because they love to dig. They also have similar dietary needs.
Leopard Bushfish – Ctenopoma acutirostre
The Leopard Ctenopoma, also known as the Leopard Leaf or Leopard Bush fish, are an African species that naturally occur in the Congo River. Their bodies are beautifully pattered, making them very striking to look at.
Leopard Leaf fish make great tankmates for Bichir because they are also predatory and have the same environmental needs. They grow 6 inches long, so they can be kept with small Bichirs that have not fully grown yet.
Leopard Ctenopomas are predatory fish that can be fed the same diet as Bichir. They require a tank with lots of vegetation to provide them with hiding places.
African Butterfly Fish – Pantodon buchholzi
Smaller Bichirs can happily cohabit a tank with African Butterfly fish. They only grow 5 to 6 inches long, so they are not suitable to keep with large Bichirs. African Butterflies need at least a 40-gallon tank. They need a long tank rather than a deep, tall one.
The African Butterfly fish is a predatory species from West Africa. It has an interesting way of hunting. It lures insects and small fish to the water surface by mimicking fallen leaves floating past, then attacks.
African Butterfly fish are named after their large pectoral fins. They use these to jump, so having a tight-fitting lid on your tank is essential.
They are great tankmates for Bichirs because they dwell close to the water surface for the majority of the time, so they are unlikely to come face-to-face. They also have the same water requirements in terms of temperature and pH.
Black Shark – Labeo chrysophekadion
This species is not actually a shark but a freshwater Shark Minnow. They look very much like sharks, and they are semi-aggressive, like many shark species. However, they are in the Carp family, so they are more closely related to goldfish!
Keeping a Bichir and a Black Shark in a tank together makes for an impressive display. They require a huge tank due to their size. A single Black Shark needs a 200-gallon aquarium.
Bichirs and Black Sharks are great tankmates because the latter grows up to 3 feet long – much too large for a Bichir to eat. The two species are unlikely to bother each other if they have enough tank space and plenty of places to hide.
Hoplo Catfish – Megalechis thoracata
These catfish are in the same family as the popular Corydoras catfish. Hoplo catfish grow larger than Cory catfish (they reach up to 6 inches as adults) and are good tank mates for Bichirs.
Hoplo catfish are covered in armor-like scales that protect them from Bichirs that might give them an occasional nip. They are peaceful fish that are active in all levels in the tank and will not hassle a Bichir.
Hoplo catfish and Bichirs are compatible tankmates because they have the same environmental and dietary requirements. Both species are predators, enjoy a sandy substrate and a tank with lots of plants, driftwood, or cave structures.
Blood Parrot Cichlid
This fish species is definitely one of the most vibrant and eye-catching in any aquarium store. The Blood Parrot Cichlid is a hybrid species that was developed in the 1980s by crossing the Midas Cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus) and the Gold Severum Cichlid (Heros severus).
They make great tank mates for Bichirs because they are such large fish. They grow up to 10 inches long, and their bodies are round. They are not a threat to a Bichir smaller than them because they have very small mouths.
Blood Parrots enjoy the same environmental conditions as Bichir, they can be fed the same diet, and they have peaceful temperaments, so they will not bother each other.
A single one of these fish needs 30 gallons of tank space. They do not need to be kept in pairs or groups. You could keep a Bichir and a Blood Parrot in a 120-gallon tank.
Mystery Snails – Pomacea bridgesii
Mystery snails are popular aquarium pets because they help to keep the tank free of algae (somewhat) and dead plant matter. They also make great tank mates for Bichir because they occupy very different areas of the tank and will not bother one another.
These little mollusks peacefully spend their time grazing on algal growth on the aquarium glass. When threatened by aggressive fish, mystery snails hide in their shell. This will keep them safe from becoming lunch for a Bichir.
Florida Gar – Lepisosteus platyrhincus
Like the Bichir, the Florida Gar is an ancient fish that looks the part! They are big and long-bodied with an elongated snout full of sharp teeth. These fish are powerful predators in the wild, but in an aquarium, they are quite passive, even peaceful.
They are great tankmates for Bichirs in a large tank setup. Florida Gars need at least a 200-gallon aquarium, so to keep these species together, you need a very big tank. Florida Gar and Bichir eat the same diet, so it is practical to keep them together.
Despite being aggressive carnivores, Bichirs can still inhabit a tank with many different species! These fish are fascinating to observe and extremely rewarding to keep, whether you are new to keeping fish or an experienced aquarist.