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The Fish that can Survive without Water for up to a Year – The West African Lungfish

© National Geographic UK YouTube

The West African lungfish, often called a “living fossil,” is a testament to nature’s adaptability. Having existed for nearly 400 million years, this creature boasts a series of remarkable adaptations that have ensured its survival through eons.

© National Geographic UK YouTube

Adaptations for Survival

  1. Lung: Unlike most fish, the West African lungfish possesses a lung, allowing it to extract oxygen from water through its gills and directly from the air. This biological adaptation has been pivotal in survival, especially when water oxygen levels are low.
  2. Estivation: During the dry season, the lungfish exhibits a unique behavior called estivation. It burrows deep into the mud, secreting a mucus cocoon around itself. This cocoon retains moisture and allows the fish to breathe. The lungfish can even digest its muscle tissue for nutrients during this dormant period.
  3. Burrowing Behavior: The lungfish actively burrows into the muddy ground before entering estivation, creating a protective habitat. This behavior ensures it remains safe during its dormant period.

Fascinating Facts

  • The lungfish uses its mouth to dig burrows, excreting the mud through its gills.
  • The largest recorded West African lungfish measured a meter in length and weighed close to 9 pounds.
  • Despite being a fish, the West African lungfish has a slow metabolism, often leading to long periods of inactivity.
  • It’s an omnivore, feeding on a diverse diet ranging from frogs and fish to tree roots and seeds.
  • There are four species of African lungfish, with the West African variant found predominantly in freshwater habitats across sub-Saharan Africa.
YouTube video
© National Geographic UK YouTube


The West African lungfish is a remarkable creature, bridging the gap between aquatic and terrestrial life with its unique adaptations. Its ability to survive in varying conditions, from water to mud and even dormancy periods, is incredible. As we marvel at its existence, it serves as a reminder of our planet’s wonders and the importance of preserving them.

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