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Lungfishes – the Natural History and Care of Prehistoric Fishes – Part 2

African LungfishHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Capable of surviving up to 4 years without food and water and unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs – Lungfish facts read like fiction.   Please see Part 1 of this article for information on the natural history of African, Australian and South American Lungfishes.  Today we’ll review their care in the aquarium.

Lungfishes in the Aquarium

The West African Lungfish (Protopterus annectans annectans) is the species most commonly available in the trade.  It and the other African Lungfishes make excellent captives if you can provide the huge aquariums they require; longevities commonly exceed 30 years.

The continued survival of the Australian Lungfish is severely threatened by development around its tiny range in southeastern Australia.  It is strictly protected by the Australian government, but licensed breeders (who utilize outdoor ponds) do produce a small number of offspring for the trade.  They are very expensive, but the experienced aquarist with a great deal of space can ask for no more bizarre or interesting creature; an Australian Lungfish at the Shedd Aquarium is still going strong in its 70s (please see video below).


In common with other fishes adapted to environments where the food and water supplies fluctuate wildly, lungfishes are voracious feeders.  They are carnivorous in nature, although I was amazed to see Australian Lungfishes at Japan’s Enoshima Aquarium enthusiastically munching on plantain!   All species should be provided a varied diet of fish, insects, earthworms and frozen meat and fish-based foods.  Many readily adapt to pellets formulated for carnivorous tropical fishes, but whole animals should be their mainstay.

Despite their propensity to hide, once acclimated to the aquarium lungfishes will readily leave their retreats at feeding time.


African Lungfish faceLungfish do best in aquariums with soft substrates into which they can burrow, and should be provided caves, PVC pipes and other hiding places as well.  Rocks are best avoided, as their burrowing activities can lead to injuries or broken glass – they are very strong!  Lungfish aquariums should be well covered lest they escape during their nocturnal wanderings. 

Most fare best in soft, neutral or slightly acid waters at temperatures of 77 F, but they are remarkably tolerant in this regard.  They should not, however, be subjected to rapid changes in temperature, pH or other conditions.  Captive breeding is not common.  In all but the Australian species, the male constructs a nest or breeding burrow and steadfastly guards the eggs from predators.

Further Reading

Website of an Australian Lungfish breeder with interesting info and videos (including a video of an albino specimen).

Video of the Shedd Aquarium’s long-lived Australian Lungfish.


Please write in with your questions and comments. 


Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

African Lungfish face image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Chris Stubbs

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.