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Monday, May 29, 2017

West African Lungfish

Photo Credit: Gőtehal.jpg: Mathae
The West African lungfish is found in a wide range of freshwater habitats in West and Middle Africa, as well as the northern half of Southern Africa. Like other African lungfish, the West African lungfish is an obligate air breather and a freshwater-dwelling fish. It is demersal, meaning that it lives primarily buried within riverbeds. Due to the dry season frequently drying the rivers and floodplains in which it lives, the West African lungfish can aestivate for up to a year; however the West African lungfish generally only estivates between wet seasons.

They have a prominent snout and small eyes. Its body is long and eel-like, some 9–15 times the length of the head. It has two pairs of long, filamentous fins. The pectoral fins have a basal fringe and are about three times the head length, while its pelvic fins are about twice the head length. In general, three external gills are inserted posterior to the gill slits and above the pectoral fins.

West African lungfish have some fascinating adaptations. They have two lungs, and can breathe air. This is a vital feature, since they live in flood plains in waterways that often dry up. To manage this life-threatening situation, the lungfish secretes a thin layer of mucus around itself that dries into a cocoon. It can live out of water in this cocoon for up to a year, breathing through its lungs until rains refill its waterway.

West African lungfish have elongated bodies like an eel with soft scales. They have narrow thread-like pelvic and pectoral fins which help them to swim and crawl on land. Prehistoric African lungfish had two dorsal fins, a caudal fin and a tail fin all independent of each other. In the present day fish, the three types of fins are fused to form a single fin-like structure. They have a flexible rod-like structure called notochord that acts as a support for their body. Lungfish retain their notochords throughout their lives. These fish can weigh almost around 25 pounds.

Did you know?
The West African lungfish has a diet not unlike other lungfish, consisting of various mollusks, crabs, prawn, and small fish within its distribution.

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