Australian Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri (Krefft 1870)

Other Names: Burnett River Salmon, Ceratodus, Fresh Water Salmon, Lungfish, Queensland Lungfish

An Australian Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri, in Suma Aqualife Park, Kobe, Japan. Source: License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


The Australian Lungfish is the oldest known living vertebrate species. It has a long heavily scaled body, a wide flat head and lobed, paddle-shaped fins. It is the most primitive member of the six lungfish species that survive today, and the only species in the family Ceratodontidae.

Lungfishes belong to an ancient lineage of air-breathing fishes that first appeared in the fossil record about 380 million years ago and were common during the Devonian Period.

Video of Australian Lungfish (also called Queensland Lungfish) in the Mary River Queensland.

Video of Australian Lungfish in an aquarium

Cite this page as:
Clement, A.M., Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023, Neoceratodus forsteri in Fishes of Australia, accessed 26 Sep 2023,

Australian Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri (Krefft 1870)

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Known only from Burnett River and Mary River systems, and possibly the Brisbane and North Pine rivers, Queensland.

The species has also been translocated to other nearby drainages including the Brisbane, Albert, Coomera and Stanley rivers and Enoggera Reservoir in Queensland.

Australian lungfish usually live in deep pools, reservoirs and in large slow-moving flowing areas of rivers.


Head wide, flat; body stout, elongated; skeleton is partly ossified and partly cartilaginous; mouth small and subterminal; massive tooth-plates having surfaces adorned with radiating ridges, toothplates resting on the palate and inside the lower jaw; eyes small; numerous sense pores; lungs used to breath air and gills to respire in water; internal nostrils, two small openings inside the labial cavity, and a pair of posterior openings in the roof of the mouth; a single well-developed lung with alveolae and blood circulation somewhat similar to that in higher vertebrates.

Large, overlapping cycloid scales in 10 rows on each side grading to small scales on fins; lateral line relatively indistinct, perforates thick overlying scales at intervals; 2 unusually large and thick scales cover the back of the head where the bony skull is thin.

Dorsal fin origin in middle of back, continuous with the caudal and anal fins; tail long and pointed; pectoral fins large, fleshy, flipper-like; pelvic fins situated well back on body.


Maximum reported length 180 cm, although most are smaller.


Dark brown to olive brown over most of body, whitish to muddy salmon pink underneath.


Australian Lungfish are primarily nocturnal carnivores, feeding on crustaceans, insect larvae, molluscs and small fishes. They also ingest aquatic plants.

Although lungfish are usually slow-moving, they actively pursue prey, which they crush and grind with their large ridged toothplates.

Food items include frogs, tadpoles, small fishes, gastropod molluscs, shrimp, earthworms and some plant matter. Although the Australian Lungfish has poor eyesight, the species has organs capable of detecting electric signals and may use electroreception to locate its prey.


After a long and complex courtship, Australian Lungfish usually spawn in September to October, before the heavy summer rains. Females lay batches of 50-100 eggs amongst dense aquatic plants and roots along the river bank, in well-oxygenated flowing water.

Spawning occurs during the day and night, and adults do not make a nest or have any parental care once eggs are laid. The newly laid eggs are heavily-yolked, hemispherical in shape, about 3 mm in length and enclosed in a jelly-like envelope.

The eggs sink to the bottom and the outer envelope remains sticky long enough for the eggs to attach to vegetation. After 23-30 days, lungfish larvae hatch at a length of about 10 mm.

For the first week they lie still hiding in the weeds, and do not feed for several weeks until they absorb the egg yolk. Larvae are bottom-feeders.

Australian Lungfish larvae respire using their internal gills and can absorb oxygen through their skin. Like the adults, juvenile lungfish can breathe by gulping air, and they can also respire through their skin like the larvae.

An Australian Lungfish in the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, affectionately called 'Granddad' is more that 80 years old. Granddad, has lived longer than any fish in any aquarium in the world. Fully mature when he arrived from Sydney for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933, he is at least 80 years old—and possibly much older. Read more about Granddad.


CITES: Australian Lungfish were listed in July 1975 under Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), to which Australia is a signatory. 

EPBC Act 1999 (Australia): Vulnerable.

Lungfish are listed as a 'no-take' species in Queensland under the Fisheries Act 1994.

Lungfish habitats have been impacted by a variety of human-induced activities, including agriculture and forestry, the introduction of alien plants and fish species, and by the alterations to river flows, including the building of dams and weirs which regulate water flows and provide barriers to fish movement.

The Australian Lungfish is the last remaining survivor of a long-lived and diverse part of the evolutionary tree. We Australians must ensure that we do not lose this important species.


Unlike other lungfish species, the Australian Lungfish breathes mostly with gills, but gulps air in poorly oxygenated water. It has a single lung, whereas the other lungfish species have paired lungs.

During dry periods when streams start drying up and becoming stagnant, the lungfish may gulp air from the surface. The sound made when the Lungfish empties and refills its lung reportedly sounds like the "blast from a small bellows".

Although they do not aestivate like other living lungfishes, the Australian Lungfish can survive in what appears to be dried-up pools by staying moist amongst mud and vegetation.

Meyer et al. (2021) report that the Australian lungfish has largest genome of any animal sequenced thus far.


Ceratodus is from Latin and means 'horned tooth'. The species was named forsteri after Mr William Forster: “In honour of the gentlemen who presented this valuable specimen to the Museum.” Krefft added that he named it forsteri “in justice” to his friend Mr Forster, “whose observations I questioned when the subject [of an amphibious fish] was mentioned years ago, and to whom I now apologize.”

Species Citation

Ceratodus fosteri Krefft, 1870. Sydney Morning Herald [newspaper] 18 Jan. 1870: 65, col. 5, Fig. 1-3. Type locality: Wide Bay district, Queensland


Clement, A.M., Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023


Atlas of Living Australia

Australian Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri (Krefft 1870)


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37046001


Biology:Oldest living vertebrate

Conservation:IUCN Endangered; CITES Listed

Depth:1.5-3 m

Habitat:Freshwater rivers, pools

Max Size:180 cm TL


Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map