Like their namesake feline companions, catfish are hunting pigeons as prey in a development scientists are calling evidence of adaptive behavior.
Researchers at the University of Toulouse, France, published a study examining the predator-prey relationship between European catfish and pigeons along the Tarn River in the Southwest region of the country, according to the PLOS ONE science blog.
European catfish originated east of the Rhine River, but were introduced to the Tarn in 1983, PLOS ONE reported. They have adapted their natural behavior to feed on novel prey in the area, grabbing pigeons on the shore and dragging them into the water.
Researchers captured a video of the catfish attacking the pigeons on the Tarn. Pigeons gather along the gravel to clean and bathe as the catfish — measuring three to five feet long — patrol the waters edge, according to Discover magazine. When the catfish hunt the pigeons, they temporarily strand themselves on land for a few seconds.
The behavior of the catfish is compared to that of bottlenose dolphins in South Carolina, who drive fish onto beaches, as well as with Argentinian killer whales, who go onto beaches to catch sea lions, Discovery reported. It has earned the catfish the nickname “freshwater killer whales.”
The behavior of the catfish when hunting pigeons is highlighted in the study, published on Dec. 5.
The study says: “Among a total of 45 beaching behaviors observed and filmed, 28% were successful in bird capture… Since this extreme behavior has not been reported in the native range of the species, our results suggest that some individuals in introduced predator populations may adapt their behavior to forage on novel prey in new environments, leading to behavioral and trophic specialization to actively cross the water-land interface.”
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