Protopterus annectens (African lungfish)

The African lungfish - Protopterus annectens - was first named by Richard Owen, founder of the Natural History Museum, in 1839.

Lungfish were first known from fossils until a living species - Lepidosiren paradoxa - was found in South America.

They can survive without water for several months and breathe using lungs rather than gills.

This ancient animal has remained relatively unchanged for 100 million years and provides an excellent example of the evolutionary link between aquatic and land-dwelling vertebrates.


The conservation status for the African lungfish is unknown, although the Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri, is threatened by habitat destruction.

Species detail

Protopterus annectens was the second living species of lungfish to be found and its species name (annectens) means ‘connecting’. It was used by Richard Owen to refer to the implied ancestral link between Africa and South America.

Protopterus annectens is now thought to contain two subspecies: annectens and brieni, known as the West African and Southern lungfish, respectively.

  • Protopterus annectens spindly lobes

    As its name suggests the African lungfish uses lungs to breathe. It looks and swims like an eel and can ‘walk’ along riverbeds. Find out more about this ancient fish and its connection with land-dwelling vertebrates.

  • Protopterus annectens

    The omnivorous African lungfish lives in stagnant freshwater. Find out more about its eating habits.

  • Protopterus annectens

    This amazing creature can go for several minutes without taking a breath. It can live for a century, and survives through dry seasons by burrowing into the mud and encasing itself with a mucus coating that prevents it dehydrating. Find out more about this unusual behaviour.

  • Protopterus annectens

    More reference information for Protopterus annectens.


Protopterus annectens

Protopterus annectens.

Protopterus annectens

Protopterus annectens.

© Dr Liz Loeffler, University of Bristol
Protopterus annectens

Protopterus annectens.

© Dr Liz Loeffler, University of Bristol
Protopterus annectens spindly lobes

Protopterus annectens 'walks' on spindly lobes.

© Dr Liz Loeffler, University of Bristol
About the author

Dr Graeme Lloyd

Former Post-Doc Research Assistant
Palaeontology Research Division
Department of Palaeontology

Author's quote

"P. annectens is one of the closest living species we have to the ancestral tetrapod - the first fish to heave itself onto the land. It is also well known as a long-ranging species with fossil representatives known from as far back as the time of the dinosaurs."

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