The genus Protopterus is composed of the four species of lungfish native to Africa, and is the only genus in its family, Protopteridae. The largest of these species, the marbled lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus) can reach up to 200 cm long and also has one of the largest genomes known (along with the freshwater amoeboid Polychaos dubium and the Japanese plant Paris japonica (), and has the largest vertebrate genome reported to date. The smallest, the Gilled African lungfish, is the smallest lungfish in the world, at about 44cm long. There are two other species of lungfish, the South American lungfish ( Lepidosiren paradoxa, family Lepidosirenidae) is in the same order (Lepidosirenifores) as Protopteridae and the Australian lungfish ( Neoceratodus forsteri, family Ceratodontidae), which is the only extant species in order Ceratodontifores).
The closest living relatives of tetrapods, lungfish often live in anoxic shallow waters, such as swamps and ponds, which are also likely to dry up in the dry season, so these elongated, eel-like fish have evolved to be obligate air breathers and can endure long periods out of water, holed up in burrows in the dried mud. To breathe air, the lungfish’s air bladder has evolved into a “lung,” a highly vascularized pocket of the digestive track, in which gulped air can be stored to oxygenate the blood that runs through this organ. Their heart is also adapted to pumping oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood in separate streams to different parts of the body. The lungfish ear is highly developed, much like the tetrapod ear, and adapted to hearing through air rather than water. Elongate and eel-like in appearance, African lungfish have soft scales and their pelvic fins are modified into long threadlike appendages which they can use to crawl along muddy surfaces. They are carnivorous, eating invertebrates, fish and amphibians. Lungfish are eaten by native Africans, although they have a strong taste, thus a limited number of consumers. Because of increased fishing pressure the African lungfish Protopterus aethiopicus and conversion of breeding habitats to agriculture, populations are on the decline in Lake Victoria and Lake Nabugabo.
(Christensen-Dalsgaard et al. 2011; Entsua-Mensah et al. 2010; Goudswaard et al. 2001; Wikipedia 2011a; Wikipedia 2011b
- Christensen-Dalsgaard, J., C. Brandt, M. Wilson, M. Wahlberg, and P. T. Madsen, 2011. Hearing in the African lungfish (Protopterus annectens): pre-adaptation to pressure hearing in tetrapods? Biol. Lett. vol. 7 no. 1 139-141. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0636 Retrieved March 16, 2012 from http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/1/139.abstract
- Entsua-Mensah, M., A. Getahun, P. Lalèyè, and G. Ntakimazi, 2010. Protopterus annectens ssp. annectens. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Retrieved 16 March 2012 from http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/183112/0
- Goudswaard, K.P.C., W. Frans, and L. J. Chapman 2002. Decline of the African lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus) in Lake Victoria (East Africa). East African Wild Life Society, Afr. J. Ecol., 40, 42-52 Retrieved March 16, 2012 from biology.mcgill.ca/faculty/chapman/articles/89_Lungfish.pdf
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 15 December, 2011a. “Protopterus”. Retrieved March 16, 2012 from ">http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Protopterus&oldid=466037858"> http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Protopterus&oldid=466037858
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 6 September 2011b. “Marbled lungfish”. Retrieved March 16, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Marbled_lungfish&oldid=448729105">http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Marbled_lungfish&oldid=448729105">http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Marbled_lungfish&oldid=448729105