Since at least the 1940s, locals along the Lower Zambezi River have reported witnessing African tigerfish leap out of the water to snatch unsuspecting birds when they flew too close to the water's surface. The problem for biologists and researchers, though, was that there was never video evidence to confirm such predation actually taking place.
Well, now there is:
At first glance, Hydrocynus vittatus is a frightening creature. (Okay, maybe several glances.) Its mouth is fortified with outsized, dagger-like teeth; its eyeballs bulge out of its head; and it can grow up to three feet in length and weigh up to 22 pounds. (It's worth mentioning that the tigerfish in question isn't even the biggest variety, either.)
And now we know it has the precision and physiology to terrorize unsuspecting swallows mid-flight.
"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, an environmental scientist at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa, who worked on the study. When they realized what had happened, "the first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique."
The discovery marks the first time researchers have seen a freshwater fish hunt and kill a flying bird. In all, researchers said they saw tigerfish catch swallows 20 times, but were only able to record this single instance on film.
In late 2012, however, we saw something pretty similar, when French catfish beached themselves along the Tarn River to snare clueless pigeons and drag them to their deaths.
Yes, fish are hunting birds now. Who would have guessed?
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- Why insects are the future of food
- The super-rich are just as miserable as the rest of us
- How to be charismatic, according to science
Subscribe to the Week