Australian Lungfish

Worldwide, there are six species of lungfishes. Four occur in Africa, one occurs in South America and a single species called the Queensland Lungfish occurs in Australia.

Australian Lungfish at the Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium © Shedd Aquarium

Unlike other fishes, lungfish possess a single lung (Queensland Lungfish) or a set of two lungs (South American and African species) as well as gills. Under most conditions lungfish breathe using gills. However, during dry periods when streams may become stagnant, or when water quality changes, lungfishes have the ability to come to the surface to breathe air. The Queensland Lungfish is found in river systems in south-eastern Queensland, normally occurring in still or slow flowing pools. When the fish surfaces to empty and refill its lung, the sound is reportedly like that of a blast from a small bellows.

During the 1800s the Queensland Lungfish was well known and eaten as the 'Burnett Salmon' because of its pink flesh. Its importance to science was only recognised when the then Australian Museum Director Gerard Krefft saw a specimen being prepared for a friend's dinner. Krefft noticed the strange internal organs including the presence of a single lung. This suggested that the Lungfish could be the 'missing link' between fishes and amphibians. Krefft formally described the Queensland Lungfish as Neoceratodus forsteri in 1870. The fish was named in honour of his friend, William Forster whose simple dinner turned into the discovery of a lifetime.

Krefft worked on many groups of Australian animals although reptiles, mammals and fossils predominated. During his career he wrote more than 150 papers and articles and was responsible for giving the Australian Museum an international reputation. Krefft's career ended in unusual circumstances. After an acrimonious fight with the Museum's Trustees, Krefft was physically carried from the Museum in his chair.

The Queensland Lungfish is now fully protected and may not be captured without a special permit.


Queensland Lungfish factsheet


Mark McGrouther , Collection Manager, Ichthyology
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