African tigerfish catches swallows in mid-flight

This is the first time a fish has been recorded catching birds in flight.
By Ananth Baliga  |  Jan. 13, 2014 at 10:09 AM
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The African tigerfish has been filmed catching swallows, by leaping out of the water and grabbing the birds as they fly near the surface.

This is the first time a fish has been recorded catching a bird flying close to the water's surface, though other species are known to feed on stationary birds. Researchers from North West University in South Africa were studying the fish and its use of different habitats at the Schroda Dam, a man-made lake in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Their findings are published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Researchers used radio tags to track tigerfish movements and found they fed on other fishes at dawn and dusk. But during a Summer survey, the researchers saw something odd.

The fish were found swimming to the center of the lake at mid-morning and preying on swallows that flew close to the water's surface.

Nico Smit, co-author of the study, said the team was "very surprised" to witness this unusual behavior. While bass, eels, piranhas and pike are known to prey on stationary birds or those floating on the water, this, according to Smit, was the first time a fish has been recorded catching a bird in flight.

The African tigerfish is a protected species in South Africa and is popular among anglers for its characteristic jump.

"The African tigerfish is one of the most amazing freshwater species in the world," Smit said. "It is a striking fish with beautiful markings on the body, bright red fins and vicious teeth."

[Journal of Fish Biology] [BBC]

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