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First Recorded Observation of Freshwater Fish Preying On Birds In Flight

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the om-nom-nom dept.

Science 93

ananyo writes "The waters of the African lake seem calm and peaceful. A few migrant swallows flit near the surface. Suddenly, leaping from the water, a fish grabs one of the famously speedy birds straight out of the air. '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 Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. After the images did sink in, he adds, 'the first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique.' Rumours of such behaviour by the African tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus), which has been reported as reaching one metre in length, have circulated since the 1940s. But this is the first confirmed record of a freshwater fish preying on birds in flight, the team reports in the Journal of Fish Biology (PDF)."

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Fly fishing? (5, Funny)

tomhath (637240) | about 7 months ago | (#45917767)

I've been using the wrong bait all these years.

Theory confirmed! (-1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 7 months ago | (#45917783)

If you wait long enough, anything can happen. It is a basic rule of Quantum Mechanics.

Re:Theory confirmed! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918151)

It is a basic rule of Quantum Mechanics.

You're correct, the first rule of Quantum Mechanics, of course, being "never get involved in a land war in Asia".

Re:Theory confirmed! (1)

rgbatduke (1231380) | about 7 months ago | (#45918819)

I thought it was "Never get into a contest of wits with a Sicilian".

Damn, I've been teaching it wrong all these years.

Re:Theory confirmed! (1)

publiclurker (952615) | about 7 months ago | (#45922819)

Well, not when death is on the line.

Re:Theory confirmed! (3, Funny)

AJH16 (940784) | about 7 months ago | (#45919319)

Though, seeing as it was an African swallow, wouldn't a Monty Python reference be more fitting?

Re:Theory confirmed! (0)

doti (966971) | about 7 months ago | (#45918165)

still waiting for a first post :/

Re:Theory confirmed! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918557)

If you wait too long, nothing will happen. It is a basic rule of living in your parent's basement.

unladen swallows (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45917849)

perhaps if the swallow had been unladen, it would have escaped

Re:unladen swallows (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918631)

Bird was looking down at the fish thinking "I wonder if she swallows?"

Re:unladen swallows (5, Funny)

gman003 (1693318) | about 7 months ago | (#45918693)

I will note that while TFA does identify the species of the bird (Hirundo Rustica), it does not clarify whether this was Hirundo Rustica Rustica, the European Swallow, or Hirundo Rustica Savignii, the non-migratory Egyptian Swallow.

I feel this is crucial information to neglect.

Re:unladen swallows (5, Funny)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 7 months ago | (#45918883)

Do not worry. Those in charge of sacking those in charge of writing the article have been sacked and thrown into the Gorge of Eternal Peril.

If you wish, an alternate article is available, done at great expense by a mid-90s web designer, which is backed by a soothing mexican tune.

Re:unladen swallows (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45919749)

What...is the caloric value of an unladen swallow?

Re: unladen swallows (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45925319)

What... Is the caloric value of swallowing?

African or European? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45917901)

A King has to know these things

stupid western biologists. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45917907)

I like how their has been reports of this since the 1940's but now they just confirmed it so it's true. it just shows how arrogant and ridicilous fucking academics can be. If they bserved over 20 strikes while they were doing their research that just shows how good academics are at refuting obvious local knowledge. Im sure people who live around this lake took this as plain fact ever since.. their has been people living around lakes with tigerfish. It really takes some kind of hilarious close mindedness for the "scientific world" to not acknowledge that tiger fish hunt birds up untill 2014.

Re:stupid western biologists. (4, Insightful)

Assmasher (456699) | about 7 months ago | (#45917943)

You're an idiot. Confirming it shouldn't be confused with claiming that locals were wrong. It's simply a case of there being evidence that didn't come from a fisherman (and if African fisherman are anything like the fisherman in my neck of the woods, I wouldn't exactly take their word for it either...)

Re:stupid western biologists. (5, Funny)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 7 months ago | (#45917981)

According to the local fisherman, several 747s and at least one Russian space capsule have been swallowed whole by jumping fish. At 20,000 feet. In a blizzard. Uphill both ways.

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 7 months ago | (#45918207)

According to the local fisherman, several 747s and at least one Russian space capsule have been swallowed whole by jumping fish. At 20,000 feet. In a blizzard. Uphill both ways.

Because of black magic.

And hallucinations.

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45920063)

several 747s

Here's some actual video footage [youtube.com] of one such incident.

Wasn't swallowed whole (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45922481)

The shark didn't swallow the 747 whole. I feel shortchanged!

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 7 months ago | (#45920117)

According to the local fisherman, several 747s and at least one Russian space capsule have been swallowed whole by jumping fish. At 20,000 feet. In a blizzard. Uphill both ways.

There's a guy who caught one of them [youtube.com] .

Re:stupid western biologists. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45920859)

The Soviet Union did try to complete their shuttle program but the knowledge of these fish capable of eating a shuttle even in a Siberian blizzard made the launch risk unacceptable.

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

tolkienfan (892463) | about 7 months ago | (#45924257)

I am a fisherman. And I can confirm that I did, indeed, hook a 747 once. It got away.

Re:stupid western biologists. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45921269)

if African fisherman are anything like the fisherman in my neck of the woods, I wouldn't exactly take their word for it either...

Nor a sentry in the Indian Army.. http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/07/26/208213/indian-army-mistook-planets-for-spy-drones [slashdot.org]

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

alen (225700) | about 7 months ago | (#45917961)

NIH, not invented here

but you can't write science based on hearsay. so many of these tribal people have legends and old wives tales that are so far removed from the original truth they are based on

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918197)

NIH, not invented here

but you can't write science based on hearsay. so many of these tribal people have legends and old wives tales that are so far removed from the original truth they are based on

Yeah, like that book about the Jesus guy and stuff.

Re:stupid western biologists. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918889)

Yeah, like that book about the Jesus guy and stuff.

That was a science book?
That explains some stuff...so those bible belt school districts are just trying to save money by using the cheapest science texts they can procure (after all, they give them away for free in motels).

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45920451)

That was a science book?

It is in Texas, Florida, Alabama et al.

Re:stupid western biologists. (2)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 7 months ago | (#45917987)

So basically, you don't know what the word confirmed means?

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about 7 months ago | (#45918721)

It means it was observed by a real person with letters after their name and not a prole, obviously.

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about 7 months ago | (#45918707)

And Columbus discovered America.

Re:stupid western biologists. (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 7 months ago | (#45919173)

And Columbus discovered America.

And Edison 'invented' electricity.

Re:stupid western biologists. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45927261)

So America didn't invent democracy?

A few migrant swallows... (1)

laejoh (648921) | about 7 months ago | (#45917917)

European, I guess, not African... guess those coconuts ARE heavy for a swallow, forcing them to fly close to the water!

Re:A few migrant swallows... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918037)

There are never enough Holy Grail references in modern life. Thank you for this one.

Re:A few migrant swallows... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45921457)

There are never enough Holy Grail references in modern life. Thank you for this one.

Sometimes there are too many http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Jones_and_the_Last_Crusade [wikipedia.org]

Video Quality (1)

easyTree (1042254) | about 7 months ago | (#45917919)

The video quality is similar to those videos where some guy catches a yeti or more similar the Loch Ness Monster 'on video' - even when preconditioned to look for a particular occurrence, and in this case with a large arrow point at a particular spot, it's not possible to determine if the thing actually happened as described.

Look at this bird? Uhh, it look like a fish to me.

Upon further re-examination (sic), it could indeed by a fish eating a bird - or a bird-fish shape-shifter :S

Re:Video Quality (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918417)

The video quality is similar to those videos where some guy catches a yeti or more similar the Loch Ness Monster 'on video' - even when preconditioned to look for a particular occurrence, and in this case with a large arrow point at a particular spot, it's not possible to determine if the thing actually happened as described.

Yes, but did you hear that banjo! I never knew they could be so loud. Luckily my coworkers all think I'm nuts already.

Re:Video Quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918955)

I particularly despise the soundtrack.
What is it that's driving the cliche, is it the rural African locale, or the tie-in with brownwater fishing?

Prior Art (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45917923)

This is just a scaled up version of what fish do to insects all the time and the likes of flies are very quick. It is a little unusual to see it, but it's not really that spectacular.

See also: Shark eats gull. [xpda.com]
    Leaping shark catches seal. [dailymail.co.uk]

Re:Prior Art (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 7 months ago | (#45918005)

Just reminds me of Randy Johnson hitting a dove with a fastball.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZHNNUSI18g [youtube.com]

Re:Prior Art (1)

Iniamyen (2440798) | about 7 months ago | (#45920727)

No, only if the pitch was a sinker.

Re:Prior Art (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 7 months ago | (#45923147)

The ump ruled it a fowl ball

Re:Prior Art (1)

clintp (5169) | about 7 months ago | (#45922837)

I've seen largemouth bass take dragonflies at full speed over the water, and those little things are fast. That a larger fish could take a bird in flight comes as no surprise.

For the fish a bird is a large, tasty, pretty much defenseless (once it hits the water) meal.

Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, needs to get out more.

Twenty per day? (2)

Demerara (256642) | about 7 months ago | (#45917963)

The article (sorry, TFA) says they witnessed twenty such catches per day. Yet the only video they captured was the one linked?
[Strokes chin skeptically...]

Re:Twenty per day? (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about 7 months ago | (#45918033)

Easier/quicker to see something than it is to see soemthing, get a camera up, focused, and running.

That said, I've seen largemouth bass jumping up to grab dragonflies mid-air quite a few times. Doesn't suprise me at all that this happens, just cool they were finally able to document it on film.

Re:Twenty per day? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#45918203)

Yeah, and at first they thought they had seen something unusual lol; then they saw nearly 20 per day. And when local fishermen told them that it happened, they didn't believe it.

Beware the CSI effect. (5, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 7 months ago | (#45918675)

I take it you've never done nature photography in the wild of a unusual short duration event that's unpredictable in both occurrence and location? I have, and I'm impressed that they caught even one. (Doubly so since they weren't professional videographers.) Don't let what you see on TV lull you into a false sense of how easy it is.

Nature photography in the wild is, IMO, one of the hardest and most challenging of all photographic disciplines.

Re:Beware the CSI effect. (1)

anethema (99553) | about 7 months ago | (#45926957)

Yeah I really enjoyed the behind the scenes stuff of the BBC Planet earth showing the sharks catching the seals.

They aren't sure where/when/if it is going to happen, so catching the shots was tough.

They had a cool high speed camera that was always recording, and when they hit the button to get their slow-mo footage, the video camera recorded 2 seconds BEFORE and 2 after they pressed it, otherwise they would never have been able to get the whole event.

Pretty interesting.

Re:Beware the CSI effect. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 7 months ago | (#45931599)

They aren't sure where/when/if it is going to happen, so catching the shots was tough.

And that's without the whole "bouncing around in big waves in small boat" part. :)

As a photographer, the behind-the-scenes/making of episode was one of my favorites.

Re:Twenty per day? (1)

Krishnoid (984597) | about 7 months ago | (#45919659)

The article (sorry, TFA) says they witnessed twenty such catches per day. Yet the only video they captured was the one linked? [Strokes chin skeptically...]

Google Glass to the rescue?

Re:Twenty per day? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45923317)

Hey, I tried getting photos of orcas coming to the surface to breathe. It was fantastically difficult. I was using 35 mm autofocus equipment and in the time the autofocus was able to lock in, the whale had submerged. And of course their point of appearance changed each time.

In retrospect I should have switched to manual focus, pick an approximate focus point and force the shot. It might be a little out of focus but you're going to get some decent photos if you make several attempts.

In the end I didn't mind not getting my shots. They would have been a little, uh, unexciting. Learning experience.

But what we really want to know (4, Funny)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 7 months ago | (#45918055)

Was the swallow carrying a coconut?

Re:But what we really want to know (1)

Doug Otto (2821601) | about 7 months ago | (#45918093)

It's not a matter of how he grips it....

something really incredible and unique (1)

Threni (635302) | about 7 months ago | (#45918083)

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

No actually, I didn't catch that. (5, Informative)

feepness (543479) | about 7 months ago | (#45918131)

I was too busy frantically reaching for the mute button to silence your horribly loud banjo music.

I've seen better (1)

Handover Phist (932667) | about 7 months ago | (#45918231)

Re:I've seen better (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | about 7 months ago | (#45923049)

Well it's official, between /. and utube my HOSTS file is no longer effective. Not used to seeing ads, now they are everywhere. (Windows 7).

Joy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918239)

It is joyous to see another animal killing another animal and to see blood? Ok, whatever floats your boat. I would not be joyus seeing a lion hunting a deer. No way.

Re:Joy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45919239)

Try to give a lion a salad. It will be a joyous day for the lion.

Impressive, most impressive (4, Interesting)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | about 7 months ago | (#45918253)

I find it impressive for several reasons: the bird is moving fast, the fish is moving fast, and the refraction caused by the (moving)water/air boundary has to be accommodated by a fish with a brain the size of a politician's. This is so difficult, in fact, that I find it amazing the fish had ever developed this capability.

Re:Impressive, most impressive (1)

cusco (717999) | about 7 months ago | (#45918829)

Did you see the TEETH on that damn thing? Holy crap. I can certainly understand why the bird probably never gets away.

Re:Impressive, most impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45919335)

It is amazing, but not really a whole lot different than various organisms (fish included) that catch insects in flight.

Re:Impressive, most impressive (2)

Krishnoid (984597) | about 7 months ago | (#45919671)

I find it impressive for several reasons: the bird is moving fast, the fish is moving fast, and the refraction caused by the (moving)water/air boundary has to be accommodated by a fish with a brain the size of a politician's. This is so difficult, in fact, that I find it amazing the fish had ever developed this capability.

Fishes brains are wired to see "bird" but think "bribe".

Re:Impressive, most impressive (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 7 months ago | (#45919693)

This is so difficult, in fact, that I find it amazing the fish had ever developed this capability.

Birds do the same in the opposite way: the bird is moving fast, the fish is moving fast, and the refraction caused by the (moving)water/air boundary has to be accommodated by a fish^H^H^H^Hbird with a brain less than the size of a politician's ...
OTOH there is a well known fish who uses a beam of water to shoot down flying insects and then eats them from the surface.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archerfish [wikipedia.org]

Re:Impressive, most impressive (1)

Lotana (842533) | about 7 months ago | (#45923201)

has to be accommodated by a fish with a brain the size of a politician's.

Could someone mod parent as troll. Such hyperbolic, exaggerated comparisons are incredibly demeaning to the poor fish.

Re:Impressive, most impressive (1)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | about 7 months ago | (#45939665)

Whoa, easy. Trolls are way smarter than politicians.

First Observation? (1)

trongey (21550) | about 7 months ago | (#45918289)

I remember the oudtoor mags running photos of a bass snagging a small bird in the '70s. Maybe it's a first in Africa or something, but it's old news on this continent.
I've personally seen a bass come out of the water to grab a spinnerbait while it's still in the air.

Re:First Observation? (1)

kekx (2828765) | about 7 months ago | (#45919341)

Maybe the pictures you saw were of saltwater fish? It says it's the first freshwater fish that they recorded.

Bass to it (4, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#45918343)

I've seen a Large mouth Bass catch a swallow in flight. It was only once... but we've often found them in their stomachs... as well as squirrels, chipmunks, once we found a dudes wallet (I have no idea why it'd eat that) My uncle. who's been a bass fisherman for 50yrs. has a favorite line "If Bass got as big as sharks I'd never go in the water"

Re:Bass to it (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 7 months ago | (#45918517)

once we found a dudes wallet (I have no idea why it'd eat that) My uncle. who's been a bass fisherman for 50yrs. has a favorite line "If Bass got as big as sharks I'd never go in the water"

Probably for the same reason we find sharks with license plates and other random assortments.

Re:Bass to it (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 7 months ago | (#45922775)

Probably for the same reason we find sharks with license plates

bah - they don't even get fishing licenses!

Re: Bass to it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918543)

I've seen a bass eat a baby duck once. I can't be positive, since i didn't count them before and after the strike, but momma duck was not happy.

Re:Bass to it (2)

cusco (717999) | about 7 months ago | (#45918863)

My grandfather used to tie hooks to mice that he caught in the barn and use them for bait for pike. My dad said that he watched a pike eat every duckling in a family when the mother decided to take them across the pond to escape a dog.

Re:Bass to it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45920977)

I can vouch for the ferocity of the Northern Pike. This case involved a sitting duck. Literally!

I was fishing on Lake Superior, by Marquette, with my dad and uncle, and not catching anything. Thought I'd have some fun and cast my line and scare a duck bobbing about 40ft or so away. So, I reel up, get ready to cast, and...

The damn duck takes off with a loud quack, and gets about a foot off the water when I see what looks like the head of a fish snapping at it's feet. The fish got about a good foot and a half or so out of the water, missing the duck by inches.

As I'm sitting there, dumbfounded, watching the ripples fade away, I turn to my dad (on the same side of the boat). and start asking, "Hey, dad? Did I just see..."
"A fish just try to eat a duck?", he finished. "Yeah... I'm pretty sure that's what that was."
"Pike get hungry", my uncle chimed in, "happens all the time - I'm wondering why they aren't taking our bait?"

My uncle was born and raised in Michigan, he's seen this on many occasions. No big whoop.

Re:Bass to it (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#45922189)

It's the "in flight" bit. When I saw the bass hit the swallow, it was flying low over the pond, an inch off the water getting bugs. How the bass could react that fast still amazes me today.

Re:Bass to it (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#45924641)

It was only once... but we've often found them in their stomachs... as well as squirrels, chipmunks, once we found a dudes wallet (I have no idea why it'd eat that) My uncle.

Seriously? I don't know what I'd do if my uncle were eaten by bass.

More about the African tigerfish (2)

Chuckles08 (1277062) | about 7 months ago | (#45918447)

You can learn more about the African tigerfish on the Encyclopedia of Life: http://eol.org/pages/206410/details [eol.org]

Never be amazed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45918847)

Two summers ago, I saw a sparrow eating a dragonfly. I thought it was a one-off. Nope! Last summer I saw it again, more than once: I even saw the bird accidentally let the dragonfly go, the dragonfly attempted to fly off, the sparrow go after it, catch it and eventually eat it. A few weeks later a new batch of sparrows learning to fly. They could fly but didn't go far from the nest. Along comes a magpie, and it starts grabbing and eating one of the little sparrows. I didn't think these little birds were carnivores. Surprise! I had seen the bigger birds go after the small ones (Red Tail Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, kestrels, owls, etc.), but had not seen the smaller birds go after each other (as food).

Re:Never be amazed (1)

Jamie Ian Macgregor (3389757) | about 7 months ago | (#45946393)

weird... I saw a large gull attempting to eat a roadkilled minor bird... it kept trying to swallow it hole but couldn't, would gag it up then try again, all while another minor bird watched...

Did the fish actually eat the bird? (1)

MiniMike (234881) | about 7 months ago | (#45919257)

Maybe the fish just wanted a coconut?

The early fish catches the bird... (2)

Gort65 (1464371) | about 7 months ago | (#45919347)

Looks like we need a new idiom to replace "a fish out of water".

Baby ducks (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 7 months ago | (#45920653)

Although they are paddling and not quite flying yet our large mouth bass love baby ducks. I wonder how any baby ducks survive as they are so easy a meal for the bass.

River Monsters (1)

cobester (3493887) | about 7 months ago | (#45920673)

Have a look at River Monsters Season 2, Episode called "Demon Fish" and you will see Jeremy Wade catch one of these frightening Tiger fish in Africa. There is also another episode in Season 3 called "Jungle Killer" about the Wolf Fish, which has known to leap out to attack its prey.

Oblig. (1)

smaddox (928261) | about 7 months ago | (#45921195)

In Soviet Africa, fish hunt bird!

What does "confirmed" mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45921207)

If this has been reported since the 1940's, what's with it all of a sudden being "confirmed"? Can't we just say the guy back in the 1940's found the fish that did this behavior and be done with it?

Old Tech (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | about 7 months ago | (#45921639)

Documented in the Amazon and many other fresh water bodies long ago with the Dragon Fish a.k.a. Arowana which jump out of the water to catch insects, birds and bats.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_arowana [wikipedia.org]

Pike Eats Duck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45921849)

Amazing video catch. One in a million. You can see the pike in the water beforehand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_E4BUt1z8Y [youtube.com]

*disclaimer- If you don't want to see a pike eat a duckling, don't watch this.

Story for the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45922479)

Aliens have landed on the planet, and we just videotaped them attacking and consuming a human.

'Tthe first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique" says Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Incredible and unique are not synonymous with good.

This Spartina logo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45937561)

(at the end of The Colbert Report for example) makes more sense now! :D

This Spartina logo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45937573)

... (at the end of The Colbert Report for example) makes more sense now! :D
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl5k7-PzTl0

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