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).
Environment / Climate / Range
Freshwater; demersal; potamodromous (Ref. 51243). Tropical; 25°C - 30°C (Ref. 2059); 22°N - 30°S
Size / Weight / Age
Maturity: Lm ?  range ? - ? cm
Max length : 100.0 cm TL male/unsexed; (Ref. 3799); max. published weight: 4.0 kg (Ref. 3069)
Prominent snout; small eyes, its diameter 9-15 times in the head length (Ref. 2834). Paired fins long and filamentous (Ref. 367). Pectoral fins with a basal fringe are about 3 times the head length; pelvic fins are about 2 times the head length (Ref. 2834). In general 3 external gills inserted posterior to the gill slits and above pectoral fins (Ref. 2834). 40-50 scales between operculum and anus, 36-40 around the body before dorsal-fin origin (Ref. 2834). 34-37 pairs of ribs (Ref. 41467). Cycloid scales embedded in the skin (Ref. 3023). Dorsal side olive or brown colored, ventral side lighter; great blackish or brownish spots on the body and fins except on the belly (Ref. 367).
Africa: Senegal, Niger, Gambia, Volta and Chad basins, also in temporary tributaries of Chari River in Western Sudan (Ref. 3498); Bandama and Comoé basins in Côte d'Ivoire and certain basins of Sierra Leone and Guinea (Ref. 2834).
Found in marginal swamps and backwaters of rivers and lakes (Ref. 30488). It is associated strongly with life of aquatic plants in terms of breeding and feeding ecologies (Ref. 30558). Nests are made in weedy areas (Ref. 30558). It normally lives on flood plains and when these dry up, during the dry season, it secretes a thin slime around itself which dries into a fragile cocoon; it can exist in this state for over a year, although normally it hibernates only from the end of one wet season to the start of the next (Ref. 3023, Ref. 30558). For hibernating the fish literally chews its way into the substrate ejecting mud out of its gill openings; it may reach a depth of 3-25 cm below the bottom depending on the length of the fish; the lungfish wriggles around, thereby hollowing out a bulb-shaped chamber and coming to rest with its nose pointing upward; they breathe air at the mouth of the chamber's tube and then sink back into the expanded part of the chamber (Ref. 36739). As the water disappears the respiratory trips cease; air reaches the fish via the tube to the surface (Ref. 36739). Also under aquatic conditions this lungfish can survive more than three and half years of starvation; it shows the same behavior - no motion and same body posture - as an aestivating specimen (Ref. 51339). Carnivorous, food includes mollusks (Ref. 30488), but also frogs, fish and seed (Ref. 13851); in Kenya it feeds mostly on plant material, like roots (Ref. 30558).
Teugels, G.G., C. Lévêque, D. Paugy and K. Traoré, 1988. État des connaissances sur la faune ichtyologique des bassins côtiers de Côte d'Ivoire et de l'ouest du Ghana. Rev. Hydrobiol. Trop. 21(3):221-237.
IUCN Red List Status (Ref. 90363)
Threat to humans
Fisheries: minor commercial; aquaculture: commercial
ReferencesAquacultureAquaculture profileStrainsGeneticsAllele frequenciesHeritabilityDiseasesProcessingMass conversion
Estimates of some properties based on empirical models
Phylogenetic diversity index (Ref. 82805
= 0.6602 [Uniqueness, from 0.5 = low to 2.0 = high].
Bayesian length-weight: a=0.00342 (-0.20328 - 0.21012), b=3.12268 (3.00831 - 3.23706), based on LWR estimates for this family-BS (Ref. 93245
Trophic Level (Ref. 69278
): 3.8 ±0.64 se; Based on food items.
Resilience (Ref. 69278
): Low, minimum population doubling time 4.5 - 14 years (tmax = 23 (in captivity); Fec < 1,000).
Vulnerability (Ref. 59153
): Moderate to high vulnerability (51 of 100) .