Polypterus senegalus  Cuvier, 1829

Gray bichir
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Polypterus senegalus
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Classification / Names Common names | Synonyms | Catalog of Fishes (gen., sp.) | ITIS | CoL | WoRMS | Cloffa

Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes) > Polypteriformes (Bichirs) > Polypteridae (Bichirs)
Etymology: Polypterus: Greek, poly = a lot of + Greek, pteron = wing, fin (Ref. 45335);  senegalus: Named after M. d'Arnaud, collector of the two specimens (Ref. 1688).

Environment / Climate / Range Ecology

Freshwater; demersal; pH range: 6.0 - 8.0; dH range: 5 - 19; potamodromous (Ref. 51243).   Tropical; 25°C - 28°C (Ref. 2060)

Length at first maturity / Size / Weight / Age

Maturity: Lm ?, range 15 - 23 cm
Max length : 70.0 cm SL male/unsexed; (Ref. 3188); max. published weight: 207.00 g (Ref. 3013)

Short description Morphology | Morphometrics

Dorsal spines (total): 8 - 11; Anal spines: 14-17; Vertebrae: 53 - 59. Diagnosis: Polypterus senegalus is characterized by jaws of equal length or an upper jaw slightly longer than lower jaw and a pectoral fin not reaching the first dorsal ray (Ref. 2756, 2835, 42908, 43035, 81263).

Distribution Countries | FAO areas | Ecosystems | Occurrences | Point map | Introductions | Faunafri

Africa: The subspecies Polypterus senegalus senegalus is known from Nile River basin (Ref. 2835, 3188), Lake Turkana (Ref. 3188) and West Africa in Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Volta and Chad basins (Ref. 2835, 3188, 81263). The subspecies Polypterus senegalus meridionalis is known from Congo River, from the Upper Lualaba River downstream to Yangambi (Ref. 2835, 3188, 4910, 45434).

Biology     Glossary (e.g. epibenthic)

This species inhabits marginal swamps and freshwater lagoons (Ref. 3066) and it appears to favor sheltered inshore habitats (Ref. 3034); it inhabits the muddy regions at the sides of rivers and swampy waters, where it lies quiet or glides about with snake-like movements (Ref. 49805). During the hottest hours of the day, it comes to the surface just on the outer edge of the vegetation, and it goes back to the bottom when disturbed (Ref. 45962). It feeds on insects, crustaceans, mollusks, frogs and fishes (Ref. 4903, Ref. 28714). Polypterus senegalus senegalus is mainly insectivorous (Ref. 367). Longevity of Polypterus senegalus in captivity can be 34 years and more (Ref. 48954). Larval fish 1.1-3.8 cm SL were found in papyrus root mat and juveniles up to 10 cm SL retaining external gills were found in fringing water hyacinth. Feeds mainly on fishes (Ref. 9695), insects, crustaceans, mollusks, frogs as well as on plant fragments and seeds.

Life cycle and mating behavior Maturity | Reproduction | Spawning | Eggs | Fecundity | Larvae

In Polypterus senegalus courtship starts with a series of leaps from the surface by usually only one of the pair at a time, followed by a slow descent through the water. After a while the male stays very close to the female and at times the female will remain motionless in the water and the male will come up to her from behind and nudge her with sidewise movements of his head. The enlarged and swollen anal fin of the male is folded in a cup-like fashion and is used to brush the female (Ref. 42791). No nest is constructed, but the eggs are laid a few at a time throughout the thick vegetation (Ref. 42791). The larvae, which move about with the male parent in a dense school, are provided with accessory gills and appear very salamander-like (Ref. 42791).

Main reference Upload your references | References | Coordinator | Collaborators

Gosse, J.P. and J. Daget, 2003. Polypteridae. p. 101-112. In D. Paugy, C. Lévêque and G.G Teugels (eds.) The fresh and brackish water fishes of West Africa Volume 1. Coll. faune et flore tropicales 40. Institut de recherche de développement, Paris, France, Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris, France and Musée royal de l'Afrique Central, Tervuren, Belgium, 457p. (Ref. 81263)

IUCN Red List Status (Ref. 96402)

CITES (Ref. 94142)

Not Evaluated

Threat to humans


Human uses

Fisheries: commercial
FAO(Publication : search) | FisheriesWiki | Sea Around Us

More information

Common names
Egg development
Larval dynamics
Aquaculture profile
Allele frequencies
Mass conversion
Stamps, Coins
Swim. type
Gill area


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Estimates of some properties based on models

Phylogenetic diversity index (Ref. 82805):  PD50 = 0.5002   [Uniqueness, from 0.5 = low to 2.0 = high].
Bayesian length-weight: a=0.00537 (0.00305 - 0.00944), b=3.00 (2.84 - 3.16), based on LWR estimates for species & (Sub)family-body shape (Ref. 93245).
Trophic Level (Ref. 69278):  3.5   ±0.2 se; Based on diet studies.
Resilience (Ref. 69278):  Very Low, minimum population doubling time more than 14 years (tmax=34; Fec < 1,000).
Vulnerability (Ref. 59153):  Moderate to high vulnerability (50 of 100) .
Price category (Ref. 80766):   Unknown.