While boating across Siberia's Lake Ubsu-Nur, Russian biologist Alexander Kuksin was treated to the sight of a large family of boars splashing around nearby. Much to his surprise, the boars hadn't simply wandered into the water to cool off. Instead, they were doing something he had never seen boars do before: fishing.

"It was so fascinating indeed to watch these usually extremely cautious animals pay no attention to us," Kuksin told the Siberian Times. "We were in the boat just 20 metres away from them, but they were so taken by the process of catching and eating fish they didn't even turn their heads to us. It was a very interesting meeting."

Kuksin is the deputy director of the Ubsunur Hollow Biosphere Reserve in the Tuva Republic of southern Siberia. This region is home to hundreds of bird species and dozens of charismatic mammals, including musk deer, wolverines, lynx and snow leopards. It is also part of the native range of the Eurasian wild boar.

Lake Ubsu-Nur is the reserve's major body of water, and it hosts the spawning season of scaly Osman fish each year. Kuksin and his colleagues observed more than a dozen wild boars of various ages going after the fish along the shallow edge of the water. "We have no record of wild boars fishing in our republic, not a single mention in our reserve's archive," he said.

Wild boars are not particularly picky eaters. While they mostly go for plants – fruits, nuts, roots and more – they are also known to gobble up small animals like insects, worms or rodents. There are even reports of boars eating bird eggs, carrion and small livestock like young lambs and goats. When it comes to diet, these animals are extremely adaptable.

Kuksin has heard of pigs eating fish in the lakes of Kazakhstan, so the habit may not be unique to Siberia's boars – but his encounter with pig piscivory is proof of the boars' dietary flexibility. It's also a fascinating example of an omnivorous animal changing its eating behaviour when a different food source is available – something not all species are capable of. "This was the first time we witnessed the proof of wild boars adapting to the territory it populates," he said.

This adaptability has also helped introduced boars to become invasive pests in so many parts of the world. From Australia to the Americas, feral pigs are a major threat to farmers' crops, and a potential danger to hunters and campers, while their impact on native ecosystems can range from preying upon wild animals to spreading disease.


Top header image: Bertrand, Flickr