Bichirs are so called living fossils. Already 60 million years old fossils were found, which can still be assigned to living species today. However, there are only 16 known species, all coming from Africa.
The last discovered and at the same time smallest species of the genus is Polypterus mokelembembe, which was described as a separate species only in 2006. Previously it was confused with P. retropinnis, in the trade it was often called P. lowei. P. mokelembembe is a resident of smaller blackwater streams in the Congo region and grows to about 25 cm in length. Males and females can be easily distinguished, as in all Polypterus species, by the differently shaped anal fin, which becomes more than twice as large in the male as in the female. During mating, this anal fin is spread out like a bowl. The male swims side by side with the female during mating, encompassing the anal fin region of the female with the splayed anal fin, ensuring fertilization of the eggs released freely into the water. Brood care is not practiced by bichirs. The larvae have external gills and thus look very similar to newt larvae. Even tiny P. mokelembembe (the small ones pictured are about 5 cm long) have the coloration typical of the species.
In the aquarium Polypterus mokelembembe are very peaceful towards all tankmates, which do not come into question as food. The animals do not like bright lighting. They eat coarse frozen and live food of all kinds, as long as it is of animal origin, also granules are gladly eaten by acclimated animals.
For our customers: the animals have code 165533 on our stocklist. Please note that we supply exclusively to wholesalers.
Lexicon: polypterus: ancient Greek, means “many-finned”, referring to the numerous individual dorsal fins. mokelembembe: name of a legendary dinosaur-like creature from the Congo, comparable to Nessie from Loch Ness. The name was chosen to refer to the high geological age of the bichirs, which already existed at the time of the dinosaurs. retropinnis: Latin, means “with fins pointing backwards”.
Napoleon Bonaparte was leader of a campaign through Egypt in the years 1798-1801. He was followed by 169 scientists, among them the zoologist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. After the return to France, Saint-Hilaire described a very strange species of fish he collected in the Nile river in Egypt under the (vernacular) name of Polyptère bichir. The valid scientific name Polypterus bichir was given to the fish only one year later by Lacepéde.
This was the first time ever that scientists all over the world became aware of a group of fish that was already extant 60 million years ago and hardly changed the shape since that time.
A very close relative of P. bichir is P. lapradei. There are in fact only very few features that can be used to distinguish the two fish. We currently have very pretty P. lapradei from Nigeria in stock. The fish were collected near the city of Ughelli in the Delta State of Nigeria. Our specimens are about 25-30 cm long. This is not even half of the size that is given as maximum length of P. lapradei: up to 70 cm! So these animals are mainly suited for specialized keepers of predatory fish or public aquaria.
For our customers: the fish have code 163605 on our stocklist. Please note that we exclusively supply the wholesale trade.
The Cross river in Western Africa is a legendary river. The course of the river starts in Cameroon, the lower part flows through Nigeria. The river is famous for its high degree of endemic species; „endemic“ means that the species occurs only there and nowhere else. Among the endemic species are for example Tetraodon pustulatus and Ctenopoma nebulosum. Another endemic species is Polypterus teugelsi which has been described scientifically only in 2004. Currently it is very difficult to obtain fish from the Cross river, so the species is extremely rare in the trade and expensive.
Now the breeders in Indonesia have managed to breed Polypterus teugelsi successfully. Thus every enthusiast who is interested is enabled to keep the fish. One should, however, keep in mind that the species attains a length of at least 40 cm. They are not small fish at all, despite how charming the youngsters may look. One very special feature in the young P. teugelsi is the fact that they have their dorsal finlets almost always spread.
For our customers: the fish have code 165601 on our stocklist. Please note that we exclusively supply the wholesale trade.
We received once more from Guinea the comparatively small (20-25 cm) and very pretty Polypterus palmas. Currently our fish are 10-12 cm long. Formerly the species has been splitted in several subspecies, but this seems not to reflect the real situation. Two of these subspecies have been recorded from Guinea, namely P. p. palmas and P. p. buettikoferi. Both are regarded to be full species on their own currently. P. buettikoferi can be recognized by the much broader lateral bands.
For our customers: P. palmas has code 164502 on our stocklist. Please note that we exclusively supply the wholesale trade.
Text & photos: Frank Schäfer