Fun African Lungfish Facts For Kids

Oluniyi Akande
Oct 20, 2022 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Fact-checked by Oluwapelumi Iwayemi
Let us fascinate you with some exciting African lungfish facts.

In today’s world, there remain only six species of lungfish. This fish species has a unique body and fins and is widespread in South America, Africa as well as Australia.

What is more surprising is that these fish have been on Earth since the Triassic period.

This prehistoric species has survived for nearly 400 million years and are sometimes also called 'living fossils'. The name ‘lungfish’ comes from the presence of an arrangement that acts like lungs for these fish, making it easier for them to breathe in air and adapt without water!

The African lungfish belong to the Protopterus genus. Currently, there are four existing species of the African lungfish, namely the Protopterus aethiopicus (the marbled lungfish), the Protopterus amphibius (East African lungfish), the Protopterus annectens (West African lungfish), and lastly, the Protopterus dolloi (spotted African lungfish). Sometimes, the terms ‘West African lungfish’ and ‘African lungfish’ are used interchangeably.

This fish is also the closest surviving link to the tetrapods, which include salamanders, frogs, newts, and many more animals!

If you like this article, check out anchovies and marlins.

African Lungfish Interesting Facts

What type of animal is an African Lungfish?

The African lungfish is a type of fish.

What class of animal does an African Lungfish belong to?

These species fall in the category of fish.

How many African Lungfish are there in the world?

Unfortunately, there is no estimate of the African lungfish population that still survives in the world.

Where does an African Lungfish live?

This fish lives in freshwater sources or shallow bodies of water.

What is an African Lungfish's habitat?

The distribution of this fish species is in shallow water bodies, usually in the bottom of marshes or swamps, or even backwaters. The list of African lungfish habitat also includes large lakes or rivers.

They are also capable of breathing air and living out of water for long periods of time below dried river beds in their own little burrows made of hardened mud.

Who do African Lungfish live with?

These African fish usually live in small groups or survive alone.

How long does an African Lungfish live?

The West African lungfish has a lifespan of about 20 years.

How do they reproduce?

The African lungfish are known to breed in the early days of the rainy season. They make small nests or mounds in the mud, which will be a safe house for their eggs. The male then guards their little burrows against potential predators for up to three weeks.

Once the little eggs hatch, they swim out, resembling tadpoles. They have gills on their exterior, and only after some time, they develop their lungs. Once fully grown, they use both gills and lungs for breathing.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of the African lungfish is of Least Concern.

African Lungfish Fun Facts

What do African Lungfish look like?

The African lungfish are often confused for eels.

The African Lungfish are pretty similar to eels. They have elongated belt-like bodies which are armored with soft scales. They have fine hair-like pelvic and pectoral fins.

Their tail fins and dorsal fins are fused into a single unit. Their pectoral and pelvic fins help this water species to swim and slither like the eels, or even crawl down hedges. They are usually greyish or brownish in color with black patches on them.

The West African lungfishes have small eyes and a snout. Its body is almost 9 to 15 times its head length.

Their pectoral fins are also pretty long, almost thrice the length of their head, whereas the pelvic fins equal to double the same length of the head. They have a series of cycloid scales on their body. They also have around  34 to 37 pairs of ribs.

How cute are they?

Considering the dull colors resembling mud, we would not really classify this fish as cute.

How do they communicate?

We do not have much information about this, but we are aware that most communicate with each other using sound, with frequency ranges varying.

How big is an African Lungfish?

The average length of a lungfish equals the length of a full-size acoustic guitar, around 38in (98cm).

How fast can an African Lungfish swim?

Sadly, we are unaware of this information. But keeping in mind the length and weight of this species, we can say that they aren't that quick to move around.

How much does an African Lungfish weigh?

The West African lungfish weighs about 10 lb (4.5 kg).

What are their male and female names of the species?

There is no distinct name for the male and female species of this fish.

What would you call a baby African Lungfish?

There is no specific name for the African lungfish babies, they are commonly called hatchlings, larvae, or fry.

What do they eat?

The African lungfish diet includes aquatic insect eggs, small crustaceans, amphibians as well as mollusks. Apart from this, they also feed on plant roots and seeds.

Are they dangerous?

We do think they are dangerous as they use their strong tails to attack anything they suspect is a threat to them.

Would they make a good pet?

Yes, as this species requires very minimal maintenance and would rest peacefully in your aquarium.

Did you know...

The hearts of lungfishes function in such a way that their systemic and pulmonary circuits have separate blood flows. The atrium is designed such that the left side gets purely oxygenated blood, whereas the right side gets a supply of the deoxygenated blood from the body tissues.

This oxygenated blood flows mostly towards the gill arches towards the front of the body, and the deoxygenated supply of blood flows down to the posterior gill arches.

The hind limbs of the African lungfish help them to get up from the sea bed and propel forward. The additional lungs help them get the required buoyancy.

You can keep these in your aquarium too, but do not be worried if they do not move for days - the African lungfish hibernation does not have a small timeline! They dig inches deep into the soil at the base of the waterways.

They then go wiggling down this little hole at the bottom and create a chamber for themselves. They swim within these little chambers with their noses pointing out.

In hibernation, their metabolic rates slow down, and their muscle tissues get broken down to provide the necessary nutrients for the lungfishes. This hibernation can go for as long as four years!

The brothers of this fish, the Australian species, have another special ability. The younger ones of this freshwater fish are able to change their color rapidly according to the light falling on them!

Do people eat African Lungfish?

Lungfish were often a common sight in the fishermen’s nets! They were often sun-dried and brought to the markets which would help in good preservation. With technological advancements in fishing, the population of these has been decreasing.

How do African Lungfish survive out of the water?

The African lungfish on land? The evolution of animals over million years can be observed in these fish.

Ever wondered why exactly they are known as ‘lungfish’? Here’s the reason why! These eel-like fish have two gill arches towards the front of their bodies which house the gills.

However, these little gills are not enough to serve as the only respiratory organ. These are quite often exposed to environments that may have a lower concentration of oxygen or even face situations where their aquatic habitats have dried up. To adapt to such situations, their guts are ‘out pocketed', each ‘lung’ has multiple blood vessels with thin walls.

This arrangement helps the blood flowing through them to breathe in the oxygen coming in through each ‘lung’. Thus, breathing occurs through both their gills and lungs.

As their habitats have a threat of drying up, these animals have the ability to secrete a mucus layer around their body, which later dries around them and forms a cocoon. They can then survive in this cocoon for as long as a year, or until the next rainfall comes and rejuvenates their habitat.

So don't be surprised if you find the lungfish wrapped up in its warm cocoon!

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish including wrasse and swai fish.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one of our African lungfish coloring pages.

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Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

Oluniyi Akande picture

Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

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Fact-checked by Oluwapelumi Iwayemi

Bachelor of Science specializing in Systems Engineering

Oluwapelumi Iwayemi picture

Oluwapelumi IwayemiBachelor of Science specializing in Systems Engineering

Iwayemi is a creative content writer and editor studying for a Bachelor of Science specializing in Systems Engineering from the University of Lagos. He is skilled in research and has experience writing and editing content for different organizations.

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