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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 9:29 EDT

Marbled Lungfish, Protopterus aethiopicus

The marbled lungfish is found mainly in the Nile river, in the northeastern continent of Africa. It also is found in such lakes as the Albert, Edward, Tanganyika, Victoria, Nabugabo, No and Kyoga, all centrally located in Africa at the southern end of the Nile.

They live in the shallow areas of these lakes, streams, rivers, and swamps. During the dry season, many of the areas will dry up and when this occurs the marbled lungfish will bury themselves in the mud leaving just a small opening for breathing. They can do this because they have lungs and breathe through nostrils. Its metabolism decreases when they are in this state, so they can survive many months while buried in the mud. When the rains come and the area fills with water, they dig themselves out of the mud and return to the water.

Its deeply embedded scales create a smooth skin covering its elongated body which is similar to an eel. Its long tail tapers to a point and the marbled lungfish can grow up to 6.5 feet in length. It has a yellowish-grey or a pinkish colored body covered by slate-grey splotches giving it a marble or leopard look. This is why sometimes it is called a leopard lungfish.

The young have external gills for extracting oxygen from the water, but after 2 – 3 months of age their external gills are replaced by gill openings through metamorphosis (to transform).

With 133 billion base pairs, (DNA/RNA make up) it is among the largest known genome (an organisms hereditary information) of any vertebrate organism.

The marbled lungfish is a carnivore and in the wild its diet consists of shrimp, mollusk, crustaceans, insects, larvae, smaller fish, or just about anything it is able to catch. They truly are not fussy and as pets they will eat any type of fresh meat. Its upper jaw moves from side to side having only two teeth, while its bottom jaw has many teeth used for crushing its prey, then it will chew it thoroughly before swallowing.

Their mating season begins at the end of winter, which is the beginning of the rainy season. They are egg laying and the eggs are fertilized externally. Nests are built in the mud and lined with plants at the bottom of the water where the eggs are protected by the male. The eggs will hatch in a week and the larvae will remain in the nest for three weeks protected by the parents.

Marbled Lungfish’s lifespan is 20 – 25 years but some reports of them living longer in captivity.

Kingdom: Animalia,  Phylum: Chordata,  Subphylum: Vertebrata,  Class: Sarcopterygii  Subclass: Dipnoi,  Order: Lepidosireniformes,  Family: Protopteridae

Image Credit: OpenCage/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.5)

Marbled Lungfish Protopterus aethiopicus