Bichirs and Reedfishes

The Order Polypteriformes is a unique and ancient group of ray-finned fish. In fact, this group of fish is thought to have broken off from the other ray-finned fishes quite early in evolutionary history. The name of the order comes from the greek poly (lots of) and pteron (fins). Fish in this order are characterized by there high number of dorsal finlets instead of normal dorsal fins.
Today there are twelve living species and all live in Africa. Of these extant species, eleven are called bichirs and one is known as a reedfish. Most of the generalized information in this overview of the order Polypteriformes relates to bichirs.

An air-breathing fish

Unlike most fish, the bichirs fall into a select group that have the ability to breath air. This is possible because a modification of their swim bladder into a type of lung-like organ. This makes bichirs extremely hardy as they can survive in oxygen-poor waters.

Other Characteristics of the Bichir

Bichir have several characteristics that make them appear similar to tetrapods. In particular, the jaw structure of bichirs is less like teleosts than it is to tetrapods. Their fins are fleshy and superficially resemble those of lobe-finned fishes. Bichir are covered in hard ganoid scales.

Classification – Living Polypteriformes

ReedfishErpetoichthys calabaricus
Guinean bichirPolypterus ansorgii
Nile bichirPolypterus bichir
Barred bichirPolypterus delhezi
Saddled bichirPolypterus endlicheri
Ornate bichir Polypterus ornatipinnis
Shortfin bichirPolypterus palmas
West African bichirPolypterus retropinnis
Gray bichirPolypterus senegalus
Mottled bichirPolypterus weeksii
Polypterus teugelsi
Congo bichirPolypterus mokelembembe

Other Good Resources for the Order Polypteriformes

Species listed under Polypteriformes