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Catfish Are Teaching Themselves to Catch Pigeons

In southwestern France, catfish are throwing themselves on the shore to catch pigeons


Sometime after catfish were introduced to southwestern France in 1983, fisherman working along the winding banks of the Tarn River started to notice something different about the invasive catfish population, writes Ed Yong on his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science: “These particular catfish have taken to lunging out of the water, grabbing a pigeon, and then wriggling back into the water to swallow their prey.”

Following up on these fisherman’s reports, says Yong, a group of French researchers led by Julien Cucherousset set up a camera to see if they could see the unusual behavior for themselves.

For io9, George Dvorsky says,

While observing the catfish, the researchers also noticed that the fish only attacked when the pigeons were active in the water. Motionless birds, even when in the water, were left alone. This led them to conclude that the catfish were not using visual cues to spot the birds, but by sensing water vibrations instead. Essentially, the pigeons, by their movements, were triggering the attacks.

Of the 54 tries they caught on camera, just over a quarter of them ended up with the catfish catching their flighty foe. Such sea-to-soil hunting techniques aren’t unique in nature: killer whales do it, as do dolphins. And, in the opposite direction, sea birds have been invading fishes’ habitats for ages.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Baby Catfish Born at National Zoo
Hand-fishing for Swamp Monsters

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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