Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fishes) > Lepidosireniformes
(South American and African lungfishes) > Protopteridae
Etymology: Protopterus: Greek, pro = first, in front of + Greek, pteron = wing, fin (Ref. 45335); aethiopicus: Named after Is. Mesmaekers, commander in Boma (Ref. 40587).
Environment / Climate / Range
Freshwater; demersal; depth range 0 - 60 m (Ref. 34291), usually 0 - 20 m (Ref. 34291). Tropical; 25°C - 30°C (Ref. 2059)
Length at first maturity / Size / Weight / Age
Maturity: Lm ?, range 70 - 76 cm
Max length : 200 cm TL male/unsexed; (Ref. 34290); common length : 130 cm TL male/unsexed; (Ref. 34290); max. published weight: 17.0 kg (Ref. 13302)
Smooth, slimy, cylindrical body with deeply embedded scales (Ref. 28714). Tail pointed and confluent with the long dorsal and anal fins; dorsal fin originating at an equal distance from the eye and the vent, or nearer to the latter; pectoral and pelvic fins slender and filamentous (Ref. 34290). 55-70 scales in a longitudinal series from immediately behind the head to above the vent; 40-50 scales around body (Ref. 4903, Ref. 45485). Ribs: 37-40 pairs (Ref. 4903). The dentition consisting of upper and lower tooth-plates in the form of sharp cutting ridges (Ref. 34290). Young fishes with true external gills, but usually absent in specimens greater than 15 cm TL (Ref. 34290).
Dark slate-grey above, yellowish-grey or pinkish below; often with numerous dark spots or flecks on the fins and body (some specimens bright yellow ventrally); sensory canals on head and body are outlined in black (Ref. 34290).
Africa: Nile; Lakes Albert, Edward, Victoria, Nabugabo, Tanganyika, Kyoga and No. Three subspecies exist: Protopterus aethiopicus aethiopicus: Nile River, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika; Protopterus aethiopicus congicus: middle and upper Congo River; and Protopterus aethiopicus mesmaekersi: lower Congo River.
Adults inhabit river and lake fringes, swamps and floodplains (Ref. 28714). In Lake Victoria, they are found in open lakes and marginal swamps, in Lake Tanganyika basin, they occur only near rivers and deltas (Ref. 4967). Juveniles are found in the matted roots of papyrus (Ref. 34291). Adults are able to live in streams and swamps which are completely dry for long periods of the year (Ref. 45484). They withstand desiccation on floodplains by aestivating in cocoons until the next rains, breathing air by a small passage leading to the outside (Ref. 45484). Mature individuals breed during flood season (Ref. 28714). One or several females spawn in burrows which are dug and cleaned by the male, who later guards the eggs and the young. The principal diet of adults and sub-adults consists of mollusks, but small fishes and insects are also eaten in small quantities; young individuals less than 35 cm TL feed almost wholly on insects (Ref. 34291).
Under laboratory conditions it is an obligatory air breather (Ref. 34291), but under certain conditions lungfish in the wild may not be obligate air breathers and the use of aerial respiration may be a function of ecological as well as physiological factors (Ref. 58531).
The male parent prepares a pit or hole nest. More than one female may spawn in a nest. Once the eggs are laid, the female leaves the nest and does not return. The male then guards the eggs and young for nearly eight weeks. Not only does the male attack any would-be intruders but he constantly aerates the water in the nest (Ref. 4903).
Gosse, J.-P., 1984. Protopteridae. p. 8-17. In J. Daget, J.-P. Gosse and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde (eds.) Check-list of the freshwater fishes of Africa (CLOFFA). Volume I. ORSTOM, Paris and MRAC, Tervuren. 410 p. (Ref. 3498)
IUCN Red List Status (Ref. 96402)
CITES (Ref. 94142)
Threat to humans
Fisheries: minor commercial
ReferencesAquacultureAquaculture profileStrainsGeneticsAllele frequenciesHeritabilityDiseasesProcessingMass conversion
Estimates of some properties based on models
Phylogenetic diversity index (Ref. 82805
= 0.6602 [Uniqueness, from 0.5 = low to 2.0 = high].
Trophic Level (Ref. 69278
): 4.4 ±0.2 se; Based on diet studies.
Resilience (Ref. 69278
): Low, minimum population doubling time 4.5 - 14 years (Assuming tmax > 30; Fec = 468).
Vulnerability (Ref. 59153
): High to very high vulnerability (71 of 100) .