The Cichlid Fishes of Lake Malawi, Africa

Abstract of Publication

McKaye, K.R. 1981. Field observation on death feigning: a unique hunting behavior by the predatory cichlid, Haplochromis livingstoni, of Lake Malawi. Environmental Biology of Fishes 6 (3/4): 361-365.  

Haplochromis (=Cyrtocara) livingstoni, one of the predatory cichlids of the sand community of Lake Malawi, Africa, occurs at a density of 1.3 individuals per hectare. They are territorial, defending areas 15 m wide by 40 m long along the interface of sand and Vallisneria weed beds. Individuals use a 'death feigning' hunting pattern to capture prey. From a position of lying on their sides semiburied in the sand, these fish attack small cichlids. During four hours of SCUBA observations three successful attacks from this position were seen. After an attack the small cichlids scatter and the predator moves on toward a new aggregation of fish where it again plays dead. Individuals feign death an average of seven times per thirty minutes watch. Death feigning behavior is initiated in two ways. The fish either 1) is stationary with its ventral surface on or close to the sand, and then falls onto its side, or 2) drops from the water colum [sic] into 'lying on side' position. The initial behavioral actions of the latter method are similar to chafing behavior. But instead of chafing the sand and rising again off the bottom, the fish plows into the sand and remains immobile. These data further add to the evidence that cichlids are remarkably flexible in their feeding behavior.




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