The World of Lungfish
By Dr. Anne Kemp
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My name is Anne Kemp (BSc, PhD and BVSc). I have lived in Brisbane sinice 1968, and have worked with lungfish for many years, first in the Zoology Department at the University of Queensland, then at the Queensland Museum, then back at the University of Queensland, in several different departments. At the moment I work in the Centre for Marine Studies at the University.
Most of the information in this web site is derived from my work with the Queensland lungfish in the Brisbane River and in Enoggera Reservoir, beginning in 1969. Some has come from the work of early researchers like Albert Gunther, Richard Semon and Thomas Bancroft, and some from later workers.
Links are provided to pdf's of two more detailed articles about lungfish, entitled "The Natural History of the Australian Lungfish" and "The embryology of lungfish". These were originally written as chapters for a book on the biology of lungfish, of which I was one of the editors.
When I resigned as an editor of this book, because of concerns about the content of some chapters, I withdrew my contributions, and decided to publish them on my web site instead.
Nothing is ever really new. Current research has confirmed the work of early studies.
Australian Aborigines have always known about lungfish, and even used them for food.
Early settlers caught lungfish too, and it was one of these who recognised that the fish was unusual, and sent one to Gerhardt Krefft, a curator at the Australian Museum in Sydney. This fish came from the Burnett River.
Krefft was the first scientist to describe the Australian lungfish, in 1870. He decided that the lungfish was an amphibian, because of its resemblance to a giant salamander.
Krefft's specimen was "gutted and preserved in salt". To say the least, it was not very fresh, and a lot of information was missing. (Fig. 1-01).
All of the intestines and the lung or swim bladder were absent. He was able to describe the openings in the roof of the mouth, which he mistakenly decided were for breathing air. However, these contain delicate sense organs, for the sense of smell, and are not used for breathing air at all.
In 1871, Albert Gunther, who worked in the British Museum in London, published a more complete description of the new fish. His specimens came from the Mary River. He described the lungfish as a fish, not an amphibian.
Gunther's drawings of the lungfish are both beautiful and accurate. (Fig. 1-02)
Krefft named the lungfish Ceratodus forsteri. The name Ceratodus means "horn tooth", and comes from the name given to some fossil teeth described in 1838 by Agassiz.
Krefft recognised that the teeth of his new fish were similar to the teeth of the fossils. Agassiz thought the teeth belonged to sharks, until the lungfish was discovered.
The person who gave the lungfish to Krefft was Mr Forster, so Krefft thanked him by using his name for the new fish.
The proper scientific names of animals can change. The correct scientific name of the lungfish is now Neoceratodus forsteri. This name change distinguishes the living lungfish from older fossils known as Ceratodus, although there are now several fossil lungfish that are called Neoceratodus.
Neoceratodus is the generic name, a bit like a surname. There are other lungfish with the same generic name.
The name of the species is forsteri, and this is, in effect, the given name. Only one kind of lungfish has this name.
Formal scientific names are always underlined or in italics.
Popular names are the ceratodus, the Queensland lungfish, or the Australian lungfish.
Two aboriginal names are the theebine or the djelleh, both meaning big fish. Ceratodus and Theebine are now place names in south east Queensland.