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Neoceratodus forsteri (Family Ceratodontidae)

Australian Lungfish, Queensland Lungfish


Australian Lungfish only occur in southern Queensland. They occur naturally in the Mary and Burnett Rivers and have been translocated into other rivers further south (QLD).


The Australian Lungfish grows to 1.5 m and over 40 kg. They have a thickset, elongate, tubular body with large overlapping scales. The eyes are small and the dorsal, caudal and anal fins are continuous. The pectoral and pelvic fins are like flippers that they use to manoeuvre over the bottom whilst foraging. Australian Lungfish are brownish olive green on their back, with the sides becoming lighter on the belly. They have irregularly shaped and positioned dark splotches on the back and sides, mostly near the tail.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Australian Lungfish normally live in still or flowing pools in rivers. They have also colonised impounded waters and reservoirs. During the dry season, the rivers may dry to a series of waterholes, and in droughts these waterholes may become very shallow with oxygen depleted, poor quality water. During these times Australian Lungfish is unable to obtain sufficient oxygen through its gills. However, it is able to gulp air from the surface into a single, bilobed lung and survive. Unlike African and South American lungfishes, Australian Lungfish cannot survive if the waterhole becomes completely dry, although they can survive for many days in a shaded, cool, mud hole. Australian Lungfish eat crustaceans, insects, molluscs, worms and vertebrates such as fishes, frogs and tadpoles. They will also eat algae and aquatic plants. Spawning occurs at night between August and December. The large (3–6 mm), jelly-covered eggs are scattered over aquatic plants in shallow water near the margins of waterholes. The eggs stick to the plants until they hatch in approximately 3 to 6 weeks, depending on temperature. The young are tadpole-like and may remain within the plants for several more weeks until the yolk sac is depleted. It is not known what the young eat.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

Because they are so unique and because of their restricted distribution, Australian Lungfish have been protected under Queensland state legislation since 1914. They are also listed by CITES as threatened by trade. Australian Lungfish remain common and abundant throughout their range. However, damming of rivers and water extraction may have long term impacts, particularly if introduced species such as the European Carp (Cyprinus carpio) become established.

Other Comments:

Neoceratodus forsteri was named by Krefft in 1870. The name is based on Neo a Greek word meaning new and forsteri after Forster.

Further Reading:

Allen, G. R., Midgley, S. H. & Allen, M. (2002). Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum. Perth. 394pp.


Text: Peter Kind. Distribution map: Peter J. Unmack. Photographer: Gunther Schmida.

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