Common name: Lungfishes



The remarkable Australian Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri,  the oldest living vertebrate, has a fossil record dating back to early Cretaceous times when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Fossil Australian Lungfish toothplates found in an opal mine in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, date back more than 100 million years.

Neoceratodus forsteri is the last surviving member of the family Ceratodontidae - a  once common group of ancient fishes that were closely related to the ancestors of four-legged vertebrates - amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - so that makes the Australian lungfish one of our very distant relatives.

Cite this page as:
Alice M. Clement & Dianne J. Bray, Lungfishes, CERATODONTIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 03 Jul 2022,

More Info

Family Taxonomy

The family Ceratodontidae contains a single species, the endemic Australian Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri (Krefft, 1870). Having evolved in freshwater, it is one of only three primary division native Australian freshwater fishes - fishes that evolved in freshwater rather than species that have a marine ancestor.

Family Distribution

Australian Lungfish occur naturally in a few small tributaries and larger rivers of the Burnett and Mary River systems in southeast Queensland. During the 19th century, lungfish were moved into a number of other dams and rivers.

Although the species has been recorded from northern Australia, these reports have not been verified. Australian Lungfish prefer still or slow-flowing pools with a dense cover of aquatic vegetation such as ribbonweed.

Family Size

Although the maximum size is about 1.8 m in length and more than 40 kg in weight, fish measured in recent studies only attained a maximum length of 1.45 m.

Family Colour

Overall olive-green to brown with scattered dark blotches on the top and sides; paler ventrally.

Family Feeding

Small juveniles feed on tiny crustaceans, freshwater worms and some filamentous algae. Adult Australian Lungfish are omnivores and forage along river banks and amongst aquatic vegetation on the river bed. They can detect the electrical signals of other animals in the water using electroreceptor organs similar to those used by sharks and rays.

Family Reproduction

This species spawns at night between August and December, with peak activity in October. The fertilized eggs are attached to aquatic plants and the young hatch after about three weeks. They grow very slowly, reaching only 6 cm in length after 8 months, and 12 cm after two years. Click on the hyperlink to see images and videos of Australian Lungfish Development.

Family Commercial

The Australian Lungfish is listed in Queensland as a 'no-take' species under the Fisheries Act 1994. A small number of captive bred lungfish are sold to the aquarium trade.

Family Conservation

CITES: Australian lungfish are protected from international trade under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which Australia is a signatory.

EPBC Act: Listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Queensland Government Legislation: Australian Lungfish are listed as a "No take" species in Queensland under the Fisheries Act 1994.

Although legally protected, the Australian Lungfish lives near major population centres in Queensland where lungfish habitat has been degraded and in areas where river flows are highly regulated for both irrigation and water storage purposes, and there are barriers to movement. In addition, eggs and juvenile lungfish may be preyed upon by invasive fishes such as Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), and by annual stocking of predatory native fishes to enhance recreational fishing.

Family Remarks

Australian Lungfish may live for more that 100 years.

Family Biology

More information, images and videos of Australian Lungfish can be found at  Australian Lungfish Research Facility


Alice M. Clement & Dianne J. Bray


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