Catfish Hunt Pigeons in South West France

Elton John never saw this part of the Circle of Life coming. According to a post on PLOS blogs  , catfish in South West France have been observed hunting pigeons. On dry land.

Scientists from the University of Toulouse in the South West of France have published a paper which reports on adaptive behaviour from European catfish which has seen them leap from the Tarn river on to the banks, and drag pigeons back underneath the water.

The PLOS article makes much of the fact that although the fish in question are European catfish, in general they come from East of the Rhine. The catfish are non-native to South West France and were introduced to the Tarn in 1983. As an invasive species, the scientists believe the fish have been forced to adopt this novel method and diet.

From June to October 2011, scientists surveying a small stretch of the Tarn from a bridge over a small gravel island saw 54 attempted hunting incidents. Pigeons would land on the gravel at the water’s edge, to drink and bathe. The catfish would beach themselves, and try to drag a pigeon back underneath the water in order to eat it. The fish were successful in 28% of cases, which is an impressive hit rate for a fish hunting a winged animal out of the water, even if the fish in question can measure from three to five feet.

Scientists observed that almost all the pigeons which were attacked were actively moving at the time, with stationary birds being safe from the catfish for the most part. This has lead to speculation that the fish track their prey using vibrations in the water caused by the pigeons’ movement.

Pigeons aren’t the most popular bird at the best of times, as they have spread over many urban areas across Europe, resulting in the label ‘winged rats’. The fact that they’re stupid enough to be eaten by fish is not going to greatly improve the public perception of the birds.

The public perception of catfish, on the other hand, has been shaken forever, as Discover Magazine   christened them “freshwater killer whales” – comparing them to the Argentinian killer whales that attack sea lions on beaches, or South Carolina bottle-nosed dolphins which drive fish on to beaches. Neither of these predators has pulled off a feat quite as impressive as that of a fish hunting a bird, however, and catfish will never be the same again!