Discover the Rare Fish That Can Breathe Air, Allowing It to “Walk” on Land

Australian lungfish
© paparazzza/

Written by Sharon Parry

Updated: September 5, 2023

Share on:


In this fascinating footage, we meet the lungfish. It has spent the dry season asleep underground waiting for the rains to return. These fish are described as living fossils because they can breathe air. Now that its environment is covered in water, it needs to surface every few minutes to gulp the air. In every other way, it looks exactly like a fish!

Within a few weeks, the water is gone. All that is left is a few elephant footprints which create muddy puddles. The lungfish uses primitive limbs and powerful jaws to haul itself across the mud. Then, it buries into the mud where it will spend the dry season. Here, its metabolism slows to a rate that allows it to stay like this for over a year.

What Exactly Are Lungfish?

Lungfish are exceptional creatures that first evolved almost 400 million years ago. They are a member of the Dipnoi order and have changed very little since they first evolved. There are six species of lungfish alive today. Four of these are African lungfish, one is a South American lungfish and one is an Australian species.

Their most notable feature is their internal lung. This is like the swim bladder that other fish possess but instead of just providing buoyancy, it also absorbs oxygen and removes waste. Whilst lungfish do have gills, most cannot use them for breathing. Therefore, they have to be able to access air. The exception to this is the Australian lungfish which can use its gills.

South American lungfish

Lungfish have primitive limbs.

©Galina Savina/

What Do Lungfish Normally Eat?

These fish feed on worms and crustaceans. They will also eat insects, amphibians, and plants. Some of them even eat other lungfish! These guys have a rather unusual way of eating their prey. They open their mouths, suck in the prey, and then crush it with their teeth! Some can go for years without eating.

How Do Lungfish Breathe?

This varies with the species. Some lungfish breathe almost exclusively through their lungs which are covered in small blood vessels that absorb the oxygen. However, the Australian lungfish has functioning girls and therefore only needs to surface every 40 to 50 minutes to breathe air. Because their bodies are covered in both scales and mucous, they can survive for long periods outside of water. They are extraordinary animals!

Watch the Fascinating Clip Below

Share this post on:
About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.