What species of fish does the Little Tern take?

on 5th August 2006

Birdwatchers are happy to just report that such and such a species of birds had been seen fishing. They are generally not interested in what species the birds take. You cannot blame them. After all birders are not biologists. And just catching a glimpse of a bird swooping down on a fish with the help of a pair of binoculars will not allow for the fish to be identified to specific or even generic level.

Not now. A growing band of bird photographers that has been roaming our countryside has brought back excellent images of birds fishing that allow for the fish to be identified.

In this posting we are highlighting the species of fish that the Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) takes from the freshwater reservoir in Kranji. This is only possible through the excellent photography of Chan Yoke Meng. Three species of freshwater fish have been identified through the courtesy of Dr Khoo Hong Woo, formerly with the then Department of Zoology, National University of Singapore.

The giant snakehead or toman (Channa micropeltes), one of the largest of the world’s snakeheads, is cultured in our reservoirs and fish ponds as a food fish. The fish, held firmly between the beak of the juvenile shown in the image above is actually a young giant snakehead. These young fish gather in small, tight shoal near their parents and are thus easily predated by the Little Terns.

The glass fish (Chanda spp.) are easily identified as the body is translucent. Found in brackish and saline water near the coast, several species are also found in freshwater. They have been known to occur in our reservoirs, probably deliberately introduced. These are a favourite aquarium fish and some are artificially coloured through the injection of dyes.

The common tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus, previously called Tilapia mossambicus) is not native to this region. Introduced as an aquaculture fish, it is popularly served in restaurants. This tilapia is common in our reservoirs. The fish taken by the Little Tern in the picture is a juvenile common tilapia.

Images of Little Tern with giant snakehead (top), glass fish (middle) and tilapia (bottom) by Chan Yoke Meng. Fish identification by Khoo Hong Woo.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. Not meaning to nit pick, but I believe that the fish in the last picture is not a Tilapia, but a Green Chromide, Etroplus suratensis. This is not a native, but was probably introduced through the aquarium trade. There is a fairly well established feral population in the fresh and brackish waters around Kranji.

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