Researchers in the South Africa captured the first video footage of a freshwater fish lunging out of the water and snatching a bird in flight.
The behaviour was discovered during a 15-day study on Schroda Dam, a man-made lake in the Mapungubwe National Park.
Freshwater fish, including some bass species, eels, and piranhas, have been shown to occasionally prey on birds that are swimming in water, or sitting on land close to the edge of the water, according to report published in the Journal of Fish Biology.
Until now, there was only anecdotal evidence that the African tigerfish, a freshwater fish known scientifically as Hydrocynus vittatus, had the ability to propel itself out of the water and capture flying birds.
During the two-week survey, scientists observed as many as 20 successful attacks on low-flying barn swallows by African tigerfish each day.
The fish either attacked the birds as they were swimming near the surface of the water, or initiated a direct aerial strike from deeper water, according to the study. The second strategy appeared to be more successful.
A diagram of attack strategies is shown below:
The predation behaviour “may have been adopted out of necessity due to food limitation,” the researchers write.
The act is risky — by preying on barn swallows in the air, the African tigerfish leaves itself open to being preyed on by other birds, including the African fish eagle.
Check out a successful aerial strike by a African tigerfish on a barn swallow in the video below, courtesy of Nature Newsteam.
By the way, here’s what the African tigerfish looks like:
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