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Tigerfish catches bird: African fish in video snatches swallow mid-flight

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"Tigerfish catches bird" photos and videos are trending today, for an obvious reason: it's odd in so many ways. An African fish aka Giant Goliath Tiger Fish was caught on tape snatching a barn swallow out of the air mid-flight in South Africa. Scientists say the video of the tigerfish grabbing a bird in flight is the first confirmed evidence of this behavior in the wild. The results of the published study appear in a scientific journal Friday, according to a Jan. 11 IBTimes news report.

To see a tigerfish catch a bird on video is a bit rare, but apparently in the wild, the practice takes place all the time. As NCBI wrote:

A population of African tigerfish Hydrocynus vittatus from the Schroda Dam, actively prey on barn swallows Hirundo rustica in flight. This behavior was discovered during a radio telemetry study and documented using a motion picture video camera. These results show that an avivorous diet is a part of the feeding biology of H. vittatus, and may occur in other populations."

Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa, says the witnessing of the predatory fish capturing the swallow from the air happened by surprise.

Smit and his group were near the Zimbabwe and Botswana border in Mapungubwe National Park to film the migration patterns of the fabled fish.

Since the '40s, folklore has it that tigerfish species are known for leaping out of the water and capturing birds flying just above the water's surface. And because there has never been a formal record logged of such behavior, he and his group discounted it -- until they got the footage.

While the crew filmed swallows flying gracefully just above the African lake, a large African tigerfish ((Hydrocynus vittatus) leaps out of the water and snatches one, taking it below the water, never to be seen again.

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," says Smit, who was no longer a disbeliever in the former fable.

In fact, for the remainder of the day, he and his group witnessed about 20 such similar strikes from the freshwater fish.

"We hope that our findings will really focus the attention on the importance of basic freshwater research, and specifically fish behavior."

The tigerfish catches bird story appears in the Journal of Fish Biology.

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