Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Protopterus annectens annectens

African Lungfish

Protopterus annectens annectens, African Lungfish Protopterus annectens annectens, African Lungfish
Photos by Michelle Stuart


Protopterus: Greek, pro = first, in front of + Greek, pteron = wing, fin

General Notes:

African lungfish are large but mostly inactive fish which means they can be housed in the relatively small space of 72" x 30" x 30". They will tolerate a very wide range of conditions but avoid extremes. They are fiercely intolerant of conspecifics and other fish may be attacked, even fish which are too big to eat could be attacked and savagely bitten, for this reason these fish should be housed alone.

Their aquarium should have a simple layout where clutter is avoided. A large branch will suffice as decor and give the fish a place to rest where it won't feel to exposed.

Large healthy lungfish produce a lot of messy waste, good filtration and maintenance regime over and above what is normally required should be regarded as being essential when keeping these fish. When carrying out tank maintenance keep in mind that African lungfish are capable of causing you a very serious injury with a bite.


Omnivore, Smaller fish, frogs, insects make up the bulk of African lungfish's diet across most of its range, but in Kenya the population feeds mostly on plant material. African lungfish can go without food for 3.5 years helped by remaining motionless and saving energy. In captivity African lungfish should be fed two or three times per week using prawns, lance fish, shellfish, algae wafers and some fresh vegetable matter.


Aggressive, particularly towards conspecifics. Should be kept alone. African lungfish have enamelled teeth and they are able to inflict a very serious bite so treat them with great respect.


There are no known external differences between the sexes.


Nest builder, the male alone protects the brood. African lungfish have not been bred under aquarium conditions.

Wild status

Common across most of its range and facing no major threats. Although present it is less common in E Africa.

Additional information

The swim bladder of the African lungfish has evolved in to a rudimentary lung allowing the fish to breathe atmospheric oxygen. This allows the fish to exploit an environment where the water is very low in oxygen. The gills cannot supply the fish with all the oxygen that it requires. This means that they have to rise to the surface every few minutes in order to take a gulp of air.

African lungfish can live out of water for several months when in a cocoon which prevents them from dehydration.

Information at a glance

pH: 6.5 - 8
dGH: 5 - 20
Temperature: 25 - 30°C (76 - 86°F)
Lighting: Not critical.
Diet: Omnivore.
Size: 100cm (39in), less in captivity
Min tank size: 1,000 litres"
Difficulty level: Difficult
Aquarium type: Community
Swimming level: Bottom

" This is a very sedentary species.

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Protopterus annectens annectens, African Lungfish

Origin: Africa:
Senegal, Niger, Gambia, Western Sudan  Sierra Leone and Guinea'

Habitat: Swamps and backwaters of rivers and lakes.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lepidosireniformes
Family: Protopteridae
Genus: Protopterus
Species: P. annectens annectens, (Owen 1839)

Other common names:

Rhinocryptis amphibia,
Protopterus annectens brieni,
Lepidosiren tobal,
Protopterus rhinocryptis,
Protopterus anguilliformis,
Rhinocryptis annectens,
Protopterus annectens annectens,
Lepidosiren annectens