How Does the Lungfish Live Out of Water?

Most fish die very quickly if they are taken out of water, but the unusual eel-shaped lungfish, also called the mudfish, can survive for many months out of water.

The lungfish has gills, like other fish, that it uses to breathe while in the water. But it also has an air bladder, which works very much the way your lungs do.

The usual home of the lungfish is in muddy rivers and streams of Africa. While most of the year these areas are quite wet, there is a dry summer season lasting several months. During this dry season, the lungfish burrows into the mud on the river floor and builds a mud shell, almost like a cocoon, around itself. The lungfish spends these months in a state almost like sleep. However, it does get air into its cocoon through a small hole it has left in the shell. During this time, it lives on the fat that it has stored up in its body.

When the rainy season arrives in the fall and the rivers fill up again, the water softens the mud cocoon, releasing the lungfish back into its river home.