African Tiger Fish

Hydrocynus vittatus

About This Animal

SIZE: Up to 3½ feet (105 cm) and 33 lbs. (15 kg)

RANGE: Throughout Africa from Egypt to South Africa

HABITAT: Lakes and large rivers, especially the Zambezi River system of South Africa

DIET: Whatever prey is most abundant, including Barn Swallows in flight

ON EXHIBIT: Rivers Of The World Gallery in River Journey

The African tiger fish – not to be confused with one of its close relatives, the goliath tiger fish – serves as a popular game fish as well as a food fish for many natives.  This fierce looking, voracious predator has eight teeth per jaw that are prominently visible when both jaws are closed.  These fish often hunt in packs.  While most species of tiger fish are not known to be dangerous to people, attacks on human beings are rare but not unheard of, especially by the goliath tiger fish.  

In 2010 a team of National Geographic scientists filmed for the first time the African tiger fish leaping out of the water snatching birds (barn swallows) in mid-air flight.  The scientists marveled at the skill to capture birds “on the wing”.  The fish first had to spot a bird from underwater, exceed the bird’s speed, compensate for the refraction and then leap out of the water to snatch the bird in mid-flight.  This is one of the truly incredible prey-predator relationships on our planet.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, tiger fish are of least concern with a wide distribution but are protected in some reserves.