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14 January 2014

A very quick bite: Moment tigerfish leapt from an African lake to pluck a swallow from the air

The phenomenon has never before been captured on film

Incredible footage has emerged of a fish leaping out of the water and plucking a fast-flying swallow out of the air - an event believed to have never before been captured on film.

While many fish are known to occasionally eat birds, such as sharks, piranhas, eels and pikes, they usually prey on swimming, floating or stationary birds near the waterline.

There have been reports of the African tigerfish, a fierce predator with large teeth found in many rivers and lakes on the continent, leaping out of the water to eat low-flying birds, but the phenomenon has never been captured on film.

Flying fish - This is the moment an African tigerfish launches itself out of the water and grabs a swallow

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This footage is the first time a a freshwater fish has been seen catching a flying bird.

The footage is all the more breathtaking because the unlucky bird is a swallow, an incredibly agile species that can hit speeds of 40mph.

It was taken at Schroda Dam, a lake on the Limpopo River catchment in the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa using a motion capture camera as part of a study by the Unit of Environmental Sciences and Management at the North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

The Journal of Fish Biology reports: 'As far as is known, this is the first confirmed record of a freshwater fish preying on birds in flight.'

The predatory behaviour has been reported by numerous biologists, but definitive proof has eluded them until now

Scientists believe the behaviour may have been adopted out of necessity because of limited food supplies in the tigerfish's habitat.

Ironically, the tigerfish's pursuit of its avian prey also makes it more vulnerable to the African fish eagle, a common predator in the region.

The report added: 'During the 15 day survey as many as 20 successful attempts by H. vittatus (African Tigerfish) individuals were observed on a daily basis.

'Two predation strategies were displayed by H.vittatus. These included surface or sub-surface pursuits of H. rustica (swallows), followed by aerial strikes, and direct aerial strikes initiated from deeper water.'

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