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West African Lungfish Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

Are you thinking of experimenting with a large fish species in your tank? Well, then West African Lungfish would be the best choice for you. They are large and come with unique behavior, which makes them great to add to your tank.

African Lungfish are popular fish species readily found in the slow African waters. Growing up to a length of 79.9-inches in a tank, they are easy to care for in a 60-gallon tank. Also, being hardy species, these types of fish can survive through a large range of water parameters.

Species Overview

Level of CareEasy
AppearanceIt comes with a pinkish ground color with dark and light slate-grey splotches, rendering a creative marble-like tone on its body.
Life Expectancy20 years
Tank Size60-gallons
Tank EnvironmentIt can survive in a wide range of water parameters with sand gravel and proper vegetation.
Tank MatesBetter kept alone

African Lungfish, scientific name: Protopterus annectens, is one of the most popular types of fish in the aquarium trade. These fish are also famous with common names like the Marbled Lungfish and Leopard Lungfish.

African Lungfish belong to the genus of Protopterus, a part of the Lepidosirenidae family. This exotic tank fish comes with a smooth body, having an elongated cylindrical shape.

If you notice them closely, you will find that they have many deeply implanted scales all over their body. These come with a long tail, which becomes much slenderer and thinly tapers off at the ending portion.

Now, these West African Lung possess a slight yellowish-grey or pinkish tone in their body. Their body has a pinkish base color with dark and light slate-grey splotches that offer them a creative marble pattern. The color shade on their body is darker in the top area while lighter in the below portions.

Protopterus annectens is one of the most commonly seen species in the tropical fish-keeping culture. They are usually found in dry floodplains, marshes, and even in slow-moving freshwater swamps.

You can easily find African Lungfish in the areas of Togo, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Niger, Ivory, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Faso, Burkina, Gambia, Chad, Benin, Mali, Sudan, Kenya, Senegal, and the Central African Republic.

These possess a set of paired lungs that allow them to rise from the surface and breathe atmospheric air. Their lungs work as a modified swim bladder, which is quite similar to the primitive lungs of amphibians.

However, Australian Lungfish is the only one of this species with a rudimentary gill, which allows them to breathe underwater.

Well, similar to all other Lungfish, the West African Lungfish comes with 4 long and thin, fleshy limb-like structures, which resemble their pectoral and pelvic fins. Such unique and weird-looking pectoral and pelvic fins primarily help them crawl in the mud and on land. Besides, these fish also have tooth plate enamel.


Usually, African Lungfish are much bigger in size. These typically grow up to a length of 78.7-inches in the tank, which is quite huge.


Similar to their bigger body, the West African Lungfish also have a much longer lifespan. They are very hardy fish and can live up to at least 20 years if they receive a proper level of care in the tank.

Also, by maintaining a healthy protein-rich diet, you can get their company for a longer time.

Behavior & Temperament

African Lungfish are better kept alone. No, they are not aggressive; instead, they are quite peaceful in nature and too slow to compete with any other aquarium fish to get food. They are also not harmful to any other fish species.

Besides, as freshwater swamps are not all shoaling fish, there is no need to keep them in a group.

Types of West African Lungfish

Usually, there is a variety of African Lungs that you can widely find in the aquarium trade. So, the following are those variants that are pretty popular.

Gilled Lungfish (Protopterus Amphibius)

This species is the smallest Lungfish that reaches up to a length of 44 cm. They come with a nice blue or slate grey-colored base body, along with several small black spots and a pale grey underside.

Slender Lungfish (Protopterus Dolloi)

These fish are easily found in the Kouilou-Niari Basin of the Republic of the Congo. They reach up to a length of 51-inches and have the ability to aestivate in the land.

Leopard Lungfish (Protopterus Aethiopicus)

These p aethiopicus species are usually the inhabitant of the rivers in Africa and freshwater swamps. They have a slight pinkish or yellowish body with marble-like spots all over.

Tank Requirements

When it comes to caring for African Lung in your home, it is crucial to offer them enough comfort, along with proper tank requirements.

Usually, these are slow growers. But you should be prepared from the very beginning that they will grow much longer and take the necessary measures. So, eventually, be prepared with a large tank to pet them.

Besides, P. annectens do not even require much space to swim about in the tank because they are too slow in it. However, it is essential to ensure that the tank is large enough for their stretching purpose as they love to crawl in the tank.

Now, to offer your African Lungfish the best level of care, it is vital to ensure that the tank has enough clean water in it. Also, a food filter must be equipped to the tank.

Since they usually dwell in the muddy bottom, it does not matter how you decorate the tank. All they care about is the substrate of the bottom, which needs to be very soft and smooth.

Usually, these prefer a low light intensity rather than the bright one. Also, they prefer some hiding spots. Hence, they would like to stay in a shallow tank with a muddy bottom, low lighting, and proper vegetation in it for hiding.

The African Lungs must be able to reach the surface area to breathe. So, while caring for them, you must ensure that there are enough spaces to reach the surface of the tank without any obstruction.

Tank Setup

When caring for your African Lungs in the tank, it is essential to ensure that the aquarium has all the proper setups in it.

So, here is a small guide on how to do it.

  • Though these are slow swimmers and do not require ample space to swim, they prefer a larger tank, as they tend to become too big with their growth. Thus, picking a 60-gallon tank would be fine.
  • When it comes to petting African Lungfish in your tank, you can consider its bottom to be laid with a sandy substrate. Make sure you are not adding any sharp gravel or edged stone that can harm their body.
  • In the case of lighting, you can apply a much low to subdued light intensity to the aquarium.
  • These prefer slightly warm water in their tank. So, it is crucial to maintain the water temperature within the range of 77-86 ℉.
  • The most interesting fact is that they are tolerant to a wide variety of water conditions. Thus, there is no stipulated value of pH that you need to maintain in the tank.
  • Similar to the water parameter of pH, the hardness range of the tank also does not have an exact value, as they are tolerant to an extensive range of water conditions.
  • The water movement and current in the tank of your African Lungs need to be relatively weak to facilitate their easy locomotion.
  • They usually prefer the bottom region of the tank for spending most of their time. Thus, there is no need to add too many decoration items to the tank.
  • You can also add some live aquatic plants to infuse more life into the tank.

Tank Mates

As we stated earlier, these are not much aggressive. But sometimes, they tend to eat other fellow members that are smaller in size and easily fit into their mouth.

Thus, it is better not to house them with any small fish. Instead, while picking compatible tank mates for your African Lungfish, add only those, which are slow-moving and don’t hurt them.

Besides, these can survive well with large fish too. But it always comes with a higher threat of getting attacked by other fish. Thus, you need to be very cautious while picking the suitable tank mate for P annectens. It is usually recommended to keep one specimen of this fish alone in a tank.

Food & Diet

Feeding African Lungfish is not a bigger challenge. This fish species is carnivorous, and they are quite likely to consume any protein-rich food.

These usually prefer meaty foods. So, to keep them healthy, provide them with live and fresh, meaty foods. You can also offer them dead and frozen meaty foods; they will accept them anyway.

Fish food products like chunks of fish, shrimp, crayfish, and earthworms would be a great choice to feed them. To add some variety to their food, you can also offer them insect larvae, clamps, or other living foods, which will not leave their mouth quickly.

The young African Lungfish feel the need to eat twice a day. And as they get mature, you can offer them large meals twice or thrice a week.

You can also train them to accept processed food easily. They will also eat pellets if you teach them to. However, make sure you are not feeding them processed food regularly.

West African Lungfish Care

If you are thinking of caring for your African Lungfish in your home aquarium, be ready to deal with a huge mess.

These are larger and more messy fish. So, you need to pay proper attention to the filtration of the tank. Usually, a large and high-quality filter would work the best.

However, you need not stress much about the water change required for the tank. Usually, a bi-weekly 30% water change would be fine for them.

Though adults are much hardy, they are also susceptible to common tropical fish diseases. One of the most common diseases that you need to worry about is ICH. Anything you add to the tank comes with the possibility of introducing diseases to the tank.

So, while adding other fish, plants, substrate, or decorations, make sure you are quarantining them properly before making the addition.

The best way to prevent the spread of any proactive disease from the tank of your West African Lungfish is to ensure that you are giving them an excellent aquatic environment.

Also, it is essential to offer your fish a well-balanced diet for their regular care. Besides, make sure that you keep the water parameter of your fish tank stable to provide them with a healthy life cycle. Try to mimic the natural freshwater habitat of these species in the tank as much as possible.

Breeding Guidelines

Apart from the ease of caring, it is not much easier to breed African Lungfish in a home aquarium. Successful spawning of a pair has not yet been achieved in captivity.

In the wild, they usually construct a nest in the mud. Then they line the nest with some vegetable matter. As the female deposit their eggs in the nest, the male specimen goes to fertilize it.

After proper fertilization of the eggs, the male properly guards the eggs until they hatch. As soon as they hatch, tiny tadpole-like fry comes out, and they lose their Newt-like gill.

The spawning behavior is the same in all types of Lungfish. However, it’s better not to try breeding them in your home tank.

Interesting Facts

There are quite a few interesting facts about African Lungfish, which are worth knowing to keep them safe and healthy in your tank.

So, here are some facts that you must know about them.

  • The West African Lungfish have a four-chambered heart, which separates their pulmonary and body blood flow.
  • They can easily slow down their metabolic rate in the state of aestivation where they can remain for several years.
  • They look for a nesting site around the vegetation during the dry seasons, and they dig a tunnel in the muddy substrate. These species usually burrow themselves in that tunnel, wriggle around it and form a chamber to spend their dry season. They position themselves in that chamber with their head towards the opening. It is followed by releasing their mucus cocoon, which hardens to build a strong cocoon and protects the fish.
  • This species has many crushing teeth, which can give you some nasty bites.

Where to Buy?

African Lungfish are much popular in the aquarium trade. Also, this species is not at all rare to find. These are commonly available; however, the price is quite high.

There are also albino varieties that are sold in the market. Also, there are 3 other subspecies; although they look similar, they still have some differences.

However, if you are not finding them in your nearby aquarist shop, you can also look for them in a hobbyist shop. Besides, this species is readily available in online pet fish and animal stores.

Wrapping Up

Yes, African Lungfish are quite suitable to care for in a home aquarium as long as you offer them ample space in your tank.

African Lungfish are usually the long-lived ones that can give you the best value for your money. At the same time, you can care for this fish species in your tank with a beginner level of experience.

However, you have to ensure that you are supplying them with a steady flow of healthy food. Also, it is vital to make sure that you are performing regular water changes in the tank.