Cat­fish re­veal taste for mice

Pilbara News - - News - Tom Zaun­mayr

A cat’s pen­chant for mice is well known, but it seems the lit­tle ro­dents are also not safe from its aquatic name­sake in Pil­bara wa­ters.

Mur­doch Univer­sity re­searchers have dis­cov­ered the lesser salmon cat­fish of the Ash­bur­ton River near Onslow is eat­ing na­tive mice when avail­able.

It was thought the di­ets of cat­fish con­sisted pri­mar­ily of in­sects, crus­taceans and plants, but stom­ach ex­am­i­na­tions re­vealed SOME had con­sumed na­tive spinifex hop­ping mice.

Mur­doch Cen­tre for Fish and Fish­eries lead re­searcher Erin Kelly said it was likely the cat­fish were gain­ing ac­cess to the mice op­por­tunis­ti­cally.

“Dry­land rivers ex­pe­ri­ence ex­treme cy­cles of drought and flood­ing, which leads to a great vari­a­tion in the type and amount of food avail­able at cer­tain times,” she said.

Ms Kelly said the spinifex hop­ping mouse dug deep bur­rows in the sand of river­banks that could flood and col­lapse, al­low­ing the cat­fish to take ad­van­tage. “Pop­u­la­tion booms are also re­ported for the spinifex hop­ping mouse, of­ten within three to 10 months af­ter pe­ri­ods of rain­fall,” she said.

“The fish we col­lected for this study were caught dur­ing the early dry sea­son — a time of ex­pected pop­u­la­tion growth for this mouse species.

“Both species are noc­tur­nal, and it is also pos­si­ble that the cat­fish are ac­tively hunt­ing mice on the river­bank.”

Ms Kelly and her co-re­searchers caught 18 lesser salmon cat­fish from the Ash­bur­ton River, and found the small mam­mals at var­i­ous stages of di­ges­tion within the stom­achs of eight of the fish.

Mam­mals have been in­fre­quently re­ported in the di­ets of Aus­tralian cat­fish and other na­tive north­ern Aus­tralian fish species such as the mouth almighty, but this is the first re­port of high lev­els of ter­res­trial mam­mal con­sump­tion by any Aus­tralian cat­fish.

Ms Kelly said un­der­stand­ing the links be­tween aquatic and ter­res­trial food webs was vi­tal to our un­der­stand­ing and conservation of river and river­bank ecosys­tems.

Pic­ture: Mur­doch Univer­sity

The Ash­bur­ton River cat­fish will eat na­tive mice.

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