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Australian Lungfish Fact File

Neoceratodus forsteri

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

45kg

(99lbs)

Length

1.8m

(6ft)

Lifespan

Wild 20-25 years

Captive 60 years

Diet

Omnivores

Fish, Plants

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

A Prehistoric Fish!

Australian lungfish have been found as fossils from 100 million years ago and are believed to share a common ancestor with amphibians.

They possess a modified swim bladder which can act as a lung and is used to breathe air at the surface in areas of low oxygen concentration. In areas with abundant oxygen they primarily breathe through their gills.

Females deposit their eggs on plants and after hatching the young are independent. They may survive for the first 50 days of life on the yolk from the egg before they need to find food.

These animals are threatened through the construction of dams on their home watercourses, fishing and introduced fish which prey on or disturb their eggs.

Read on to learn more about these fascinating fish.

Appearance

What does the Australian Lungfish look like?

Across their body an Australian lungfish is covered by olive brown or green scales which become white on the underside. In juveniles the underside may be more salmon pink. The upper side is patterned with some darker patches.

At the front of the body are a pair of paddle-shaped fins which jut out to the side. At the end of the body the tail becomes thin and tapers to a tip with a fin on top which can help to push them through the water.

Individuals will reach lengths of up to 1.8m (6ft) long and weight of up to 45kg (99lbs).

Adaptations

How does the Australian Lungfish survive in its habitat?


Australian lungfish possess primitive lungs similar to those of the early amphibians. This is a modified swim bladder which performs the role of the lung.

As a result of this they may remain alive if covered by moist items such as leaves or mud. Unlike other lungfish which survive long periods out of water the Australian lungfish can only last a few days.

These animals have receptors that allow them to detect electrical signals emitted by their prey. This helps them to hunt as they have poor eyesight.

The scales of these fish are overlapping to help offer protection against attack.

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Diet

What does the Australian Lungfish eat?

Australian lungfish are omnivores. They will feed on a range of small animals such as amphibians, fish, invertebrates and plants.

This species is equipped with strong teeth plates which can be used to crush their prey.

Learn more about the Australian Lungfish in this video from Gardening Australia on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Australian Lungfish?

Australia is the native home of the Australian lungfish. Here they are restricted to small areas in Queensland.

Originally these animals were confined to the Burnett and Mary rivers but they have been translocated in to a number of other rivers.

Using fossil evidence it has been determined that the range of the Australian lungfish has decreased over time. These records indicate that the species was previously found in New South Wales.

Habitat

Where can the Australian Lungfish survive?

These animals are found in freshwater habitats, they tend to preference slow moving rivers. Lungfish will breed in areas of shallow water.

They will often seek shelter under a rock or log. These animals will burrow in to the sand and mud.

Australian Lungfish

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the Australian Lungfish produce its young?

Spawning is undertaken at night from August to December. These events tend to only lead to successful hatching once every five or so years.

The eggs are stuck to plants and hatch after three weeks. Much like those of amphibians the eggs of Australian lungfish are covered by a gelatinous coating.

These animals provide no care to their young after they hatch. They begin by living on the yolk from their egg and may take 50 days before they feed for the first time. For this period of their life they are poor swimmers and it is common for them to be seen lying on the bottom of the watercourse.

Young resemble adults by the time they reach 6 months old but grow slowly being just 12cm (5in) long by two years old.

Sexual maturity is reached around 10-20 years old. Males mature earlier than females. It is though these animals can live for up to 100 years with 60 being considered average.

Behavior

What does the Australian Lungfish do during its day?

When the Australian lungfish will come to the surface for air it resembles the sound of a pair of bellows.

In areas of low oxygen concentration these fish will surface once every 30 or so minutes to breathe. Where oxygen concentrations are high they may survive entirely by breathing through their gills.

Outside of the breeding season these fish are considered solitary.

These fish are considered sedentary and will rarely move around when in slow-moving water.

Australian Lungfish

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.

Predators and Threats

What stops the Australian Lungfish from surviving and thriving?

Adults have few natural predators. Juveniles may be taken by birds, fish and crustaceans.

Populations of the Australian lungfish are considered stable. The species was believed to be in decline during the mid-1900s which led to the translocation of individuals in to other river systems expanding their range.

The range of the Australian lungfish has been impacted by the creation of dams and weirs along their length. Few of these are fitted with a spillway which would allow the lungfish to pass them.

Introduced fish such as tilapia can disturb the bottom of watercourses which Australian lungfish require to breed. The impact of this is not widely understood at present.

In some parts of their range these animals are impacted by boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. They may also be taken by fisherman. This species is protected by law and can not be legally taken in Queensland.

Previously these animals were captured to supply the aquarium trade. They are now farmed in aquaculture operations to supply aquariums globally.

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Quick facts

These animals are more closely related to a number of land animals than they are to other fish. It is believed that they share a common ancestor with amphibians.

One individual Australian lungfish kept at the Shedd Aquarium, known as Grandad, lived to be over 80 years old.

They were first described in 1870.

The family in which the Australian lungfish is classified have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

References

Howard, J., 2019. Encyclopedia of animals. London: Quatro Publishing.

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK     

Seriously Fish. 2022. Neoceratodus forsteri Australian Lungfish. [online] Available at: <https://www.seriouslyfish.com/species/neoceratodus-forsteri/> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. 2022. Australian Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri). [online] Available at: <https://www.awe.gov.au/environment/biodiversity/threatened/publications/australian-lungfish-neoceratodus-forsteri> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

The Australian Museum. 2022. Australian Lungfish. [online] Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/fishes/australian-lungfish-neoceratodus-forsteri-krefft-1870/> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Qm.qld.gov.au. 2022. The unique Australian Lungfish – Queensland Museum. [online] Available at: <https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Explore/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Fishes/The+unique+Australian+Lungfish> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Nativefish.asn.au. 2022. Native Fish Australia. [online] Available at: <https://www.nativefish.asn.au/home/page/Australian-Lungfish> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Garner, S. 2011. "Neoceratodus forsteri" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 25, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Neoceratodus_forsteri/

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