P. ornatipinnis has black and yellow patterning on its body, head, and fins, with 9 to 11 dorsal spines. It is the largest of the Polypterus species, with a protruding upper jaw, reaching 24 in (61 cm) in length. This fish can range in colour from dark brown to brownish grey, and is very common in the aquarium trade, like many other bichirs. This fish has a primitive pair of lungs, enabling it to survive out of water for a short time. It has eyes on the sides on its head and two pectoral fins, and is one of the more attractive of the bichirs.
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