African Tigerfish Jump Into The Air To Catch Birds Mid-Flight [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on January 10, 2014 5:21 PM EST

tigerfish
The African tigerfish has been found to prey on birds mid-flight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers in South Africa have captured video of a tigerfish leaping out of the water and taking down a bird. Stories of the African tigerfish preying on flying birds have circulated for decades, but this marks the first documented case of any type of fish displaying this method of predation.

"The whole action of jumping and catching the swallow in flight happens so incredibly quickly that after we first saw it, it took all of us a while to really fully comprehend what we had just seen," said Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

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Smit and his team observed the tigerfish's crazy predation technique at Mapungubwe National Park, in the northernmost stretch of South Africa. The researchers spent 15 days at the park studying the tigerfish's migration habits and how they use their habitat. The team wasn't trying to document the fish's predation technique and were "never really convinced by the anecdotal reports." But when they did see it, "the first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique," said Smit.

And they didn't just see it once. During the 15-day survey, the team witnessed about 300 successful tigerfish attacks on barn swallows. Although the attacks seem to be fairly frequent, they have gone unnoticed until now because the study of freshwater fish in Africa is limited, according to Smit. "We hope that our findings will really focus the attention on the importance of basic freshwater research, and specifically fish behavior," Smit said.

The tigerfish is the only fish documented eating flying birds, but catfish in France have been observed swimming up to pigeons at the water's edge and attacking them. The catfish temporarily strand themselves on land for a few seconds before attacking, a predation technique also used by some bottlenose dolphins and killer whales.

Smit and his team detailed their findings in the article "First observation of African tigerfish Hydrocynus vittatus predating on barn swallows Hirundo rustic in flight," published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

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