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There are six species of lungfishes: four in Africa, one in South America and a single species, the Australian Lungfish in Australia.
Unlike other fishes, lungfish possess a single lung (Australian Lungfish) or a set of two lungs (South American and African species) as well as gills. Under most conditions lungfish breathe using gills. However, during dry periods when streams may become stagnant, or when water quality changes, lungfishes have the ability to come to the surface to breathe air. The Australian Lungfish is found in river systems in south-eastern Queensland, normally occurring in still or slow flowing pools. When the fish surfaces to empty and refill its lung, the sound is reportedly like that of a blast from a small bellows.
During the 1800s the Australian Lungfish was well known and eaten as the 'Burnett Salmon' because of its pink flesh. Its importance to science was only recognised when the then Australian Museum Director Gerard Krefft was given a specimen by his friend Mr WIlliam Forster. Krefft noticed the strange internal organs including the presence of a single lung. This suggested that the Lungfish could be the 'missing link' between fishes and amphibians. Krefft formally described the Australian Lungfish as Neoceratodus forsteri in 1870. The fish was named in honour of his friend.
Krefft worked on many groups of Australian animals although reptiles, mammals and fossils predominated. During his career he wrote more than 150 papers and articles and was responsible for giving the Australian Museum an international reputation. Krefft's career ended in unusual circumstances. After an acrimonious fight with the Museum's Trustees, Krefft was physically carried from the Museum in his chair.
The Australian Lungfish is now fully protected and may not be captured without a special permit.