How do fish fish?

Underneath the tranquillity of that shimmering sea it’s a fish-eat-fish world, and only the biggest, baddest and smartest survive.

Evolution has done a sterling job of creating some truly impressive fishing machines down there in the big blue; in fact the baited fishing hook is a lifeline compared to the brutality and betrayal used in fish-on-fish warfare.

Here are our seven favourite methods. Be warned though, they’re not pretty.

Speed kills

Image source: Jeff Feverson
“Open wide…now say ahhh”

Bass fishing remains one of the most popular types of fishing amongst anglers, and knowing how this fish catches its prey should give you the inside track on catching it next time.

Bass use an ambush and chase method that relies on their tremendous speed, a kind of hit and run tactic. Bass expert Hal Schramm explains on the Outdoor Life blog: “In bursts, they can exceed 3 body lengths per second. This means that in 1 second a 20-inch bass could travel 60 inches or about 5 feet.”

Along with that impressive speed, they can create a vacuum with their mouth to suck prey in – see above!

Weapons of mass destruction

Some fish don’t play fair, and employ some special heavy duty fishing equipment to capture their prey. One of the most impressive is the electric eel (which incidentally isn’t actually an eel but a knifefish).

Electric eels are able to discharge around 600 volts into the open water around them, taking out prey and any lurking predators. The Slate blog explores what happens if humans take a hit from an eel’s taser.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, it’s now been discovered that electric eels can use their electric organs to remotely control their prey. “This makes the fish easier to capture either by immobilizing it or making it jump to show where it’s hiding.” Visit the BBC website for more information and a video.

Subterfuge

Image source: Mirek Kijewski
You wouldn’t want this guy in your family fish tank

Subterfuge or befriending prey is a shocking tactic employed by certain fish, but it is equally impressive as a means of hunting. This cute Dottyback fish wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney animation, but it would give children nightmares if they knew the truth.

The Dottyback fish can change its colour to blend in with schools of damselfish and over the course of just a few weeks, they trust it as one of their own. It’s explained in greater detail by the i09 blog: “During those weeks, the Dottyback gets closer and closer to the school of damselfish… and then young damselfish start disappearing.” And what if they get caught? Well, they find a new school of damselfish and start over!

Collaboration

Making allies to combine individual strengths is a tried and tested formula in the human and animal kingdoms. It’s no different underwater. The speedy grouper fish may be quick, but it would normally lose its prey if it manages to escape down a hole. This is no longer a problem when it has a vicious ally in the guise of a moray eel, perfect for squeezing into those holes. Tag team.

Researchers discovered that when prey escaped the grouper, the grouper would move over the place the prey was hiding and use sign language to communicate to the moray eel where it needed to go. Game over.

Live Science says, “The results of the study suggest these fish may be smarter than previously thought. The findings may also show that this type of sign language doesn’t require a large brain, but rather arises out of necessity when it can help an animal survive in its environment.”

Trickery

Anglerfish

Image source: BMC Evolutionary Biology
Here fishy, fishy!

Is that a light? No, it’s a trap with teeth. Down in the darker depths of the ocean there’s a fish that lures its prey by shining a light just above its mouth with a ‘fishing pole’. The aptly named Anglerfish is a gruesome creature and is rarely seen in the wild. It also has an interesting stomach as explained here in the SFGATE Blog.

Berserker

Sheer aggression and ferocity does the trick for many fish, like the pack-hunting piranha or the terrifying Goliath tigerfish. The Goliath tigerfish is a carnivorous freshwater dweller, which can weigh in at more than 57kg, and measure over 6 feet long.

It’s swift, voracious and owns massive serrated teeth that protrude from its mouth when closed. It’s a killer and will chase down most things in the water including smaller crocodiles, hippos and even humans.

Camouflage

Image source: Kristina Vackova
Now that’s a face only a mother could love

Camouflage can get serious below the surface, and the Stonefish is the perfect example. Touted as the most venomous fish in the world, it hides on the ocean floor, armed with its highly venomous spines. This thing will kill you if you step on it and don’t seek medical attention. What a looker, too!

It doesn’t rely on the venom to capture its prey, however (that’s only used to defend itself against predators). It opts instead for the element of surprise coupled with speed, just like the Bass. The Padi blog lists some of the other brilliant camouflaged killers down below.