In a small dam in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, a rather unique and unexpected hunt occurs.

The Schroda Dam is nothing special; a small storage reservoir in a the Mapungubwe National Park. Build in 1993, it was stocked with Hydrocynus vittatus, the Southern African Tigerfish, in 2003. The stocking was part of a drive to preserve the tigerfish found in the headwaters of the Limpopo River.

Because of the relative ease with which the fish could be tracked, a few Schroda tigers were fitted with radio-tracking devices with the intent of collecting data about how these were living in a small body of water. The fish displayed the expected behaviour of hunting impounded fish; except for an uncharacteristic increase in mid-morning activity in an open water area of the dam. It was activity in an area not associated with shelter or hunting.

Further observations revealed that the activity coincided with the daily movement of barn swallows across that area of the dam. The swallows were, while in flight, drinking and feeding on low-flying insects.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? You’re thinking about those flying GTs on Farquhar!

And that’s exactly what was observed. Tigerfish breeching and eating – the report says that approximately 25% of attempts were successful – flying birds. And they got it on film! Although there had been unconfirmed verbal accounts and speculation about tigerfish going airborne after flying prey since the 1940s, this was the first time that the behaviour had been observed during research or caught on film! And it wasn’t just once; according to the study they witnessed this up to 20 times in a day over a 15 day period!


A diagram from the research paper explaining the attacks…


O’Brien, G.C., Jacobs, F., Evans, S.W. & Smit, N.J. 2014. First observation of African tigerfish Hydrocynus vittatus predating on barn swallows Hirundo rustica in flight. Journal of Fish Biology 84:263-266. doi:10.1111/jfb.12278

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