These fish have upturned mouths and are primarily carnivorous surface feeders, although some vegetable matter may be eaten. In the wild, they feed on zooplankton including crustaceans and the larvae of mosquitoes and other insects, such as flies, crickets, or grasshoppers.
The guys are responsible for up to 10,000 human stings in Australia each summer, particularly on the east coast, with some others occurring off the coast of South Australia and Western Australia. The stinging venom-filled nematocysts in the tentacles of these creatures can paralyze small fish and other prey.
The social organisation of these animals are extremely flexible, being dependable on the availability and distribution of food. The basic social unit is a breeding pair, followed by its current offspring, or offspring of former litters. It usually lives in pairs, but is also found either singly, or in pairs and families up to five individuals.
When these fish select its prey, it rotates its eye so that the image of the prey falls on a particular portion of the eye in the ventral temporal periphery of the retina and its lips just break the surface, squirting a jet of water at its victim. It does this using the narrow groove in the roof of its mouth. It presses its tongue against this groove to form a narrow channel, then contracts its gill covers to force a powerful jet of water through the channel.
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The males are often seen patrolling by a ponds edge or river, where they fight away intruders, crashing into rival males and spiraling through the air. The females are quite inconspicuous when they lay their eggs, but they sometimes give away their spot by clattering up from the reeds. If you look carefully you can sometimes find them ovipositing (laying eggs) into some moss, reeds or rotten wood.
Although legally protected, they are still shot by hunters mistaking them for domestic cats. In the Scottish Highlands, where approximately 400 are thought to be remaining in the wild, interbreeding with feral cats is a significant threat to the wild population.
Though once abundant over much of Eurasia, North Africa and North America, they inhabit a reduced portion of its former range due to widespread destruction of its territory, human encroachment, and the resulting human-wolf encounters that sparked broad extirpation.
Non-plant material consumed include spider webs, termite mounds and even cremated human remains. They forage on agricultural crops and other human foods, and even accept handouts. Although they occasionally drink, they get most of their water from the moisture in their food.
In the UK, these birds suffers illegal persecution by gamekeepers and their employers on shooting estates, particularly those managed for Red Grouse shooting, resulting in local and regional extinction in many areas, particularly in England where only 20 pairs survive despite abundant suitable habitat capable of holding several hundred pairs.