A juvenile saddled bichir has external gills and as they grow and mature, the gills become internal.
  • Size

    12 inches (30.5 cm)
  • Diet

    Snails, crustaceans, small fish
  • Range

    West Africa
  • Habitat

    Swamps, rivers, and marshes

Physical Characteristics

  • Common length of 12 inches (30.5 cm); maximum length of 24.8 inches (63 cm).
  • The lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw. The body is cylindrical in shape and covered with ganoid scales. Pectoral and anal fins are low on the body giving a leg-like appearance. A dorsal array of 7 to 16 dorsal fins begins behind the edge of the pectoral fins and ends with a fan-like caudal fin.
  • Juveniles’ gills are external and become internal as they mature.
  • Coloration is white or grey to a lighter brown with 3 to 4 irregularly-shaped vertical stripes along the length of the body.
    • Light coloration between stripes resembles the shape of a horse saddle.

Animal Fact

The saddled bichir gulps air from the surface in both oxygen-poor and oxygen-rich environments.

Diet / Feeding

  • Carnivore; diet includes snails, crustaceans and small fish.
  • A nocturnal hunter that locates prey using smell.

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs in freshwater environments in west Africa including the Nile, Niger, Volta, Bandama, Comoé and Ouémé Rivers and the Chad basin.
  • Inhabits swamps, rivers and marshes.
    • Occasionally found in brackish water environments, particularly around mangroves.

Reproduction & Growth

  • Spawning occurs during the rainy season and corresponds to changes in water temperature and chemistry.
  • During spawning, the male will create a cup-shape around the female’s genitals with his caudal and anal fins to receive eggs from the female. Male will fertilize eggs and then scatter them among vegetation.
  • Eggs hatch within 3 to 4 days of fertilization.
  • Fry becomes free swimming around three days after hatching.

Conservation Status

  • “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • The swim bladder is divided into two parts and can be used as a primitive lung.
    • Gulps air from the surface in both oxygen-poor and oxygen-rich environments.
  • Member of the Polypteridae family.


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