Nothing on the internet shocks me anymore. But seeing a fully-formed mole inside a fish's mouth made me think, "Hmmm, yeah. I guess that's kind of gross."
The lucky catch belonged to Missouri angler Monroe Mackinney, who reportedly hooked the fish at his parents' eight-acre pond this May.
Lodged snugly in its gullet was a drowned mole—a macabre death scene the fisherman excitedly shared on his Instagram page. (Also, is it just me, or does the mole look like it's trying, with its dying gasp, to climb its way out of the bass' mouth?)
"I went to lip him so I could remove my hook and that's when I saw something in its mouth," Mackinney told The Sun this week. "I was hesitant to remove the hook, but upon further inspection I realized it was a mole inside the fish's mouth."
But fish eat weird shit all the time. One study, published in Ecology of Freshwater Fish, suggests that some freshwater species consume mammals more often that we think. The 2013 paper documented the predation of shrews by rainbow trout and Arctic grayling in Alaska's Wood River basin, over a 13-year period.
The study observed these fish zoning in on shrews when their populations were at their highest. During these periods, 25 percent of trout and grayling more than a foot long had shrews in their stomachs. It's unclear, however, if the shrews were swept into the water by flooding, or if the fish actively hunted them from the riverbank.
"Largemouth bass [like the one Mackinney caught] are particularly well-known for eating small mammals of various types. Anglers have known this for a long time," Daniel Schindler, a professor at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and one of the study's authors, told me in an email.
This certainly seems to be the case, judging by Bass Pro Shops' extensive line of mouse-shaped bass lures. ("Once you experience the exhilaration of a trout attacking a fly intended to imitate a fairly large rodent, it's hard to return to nymph, streamer or even dry fly fishing," angler Chad Shmukler mused for Hatch.) There are even videos of people feeding live mice to bass, though as a former pet mouse-owner, I have a hard time watching them.
"That's an awesome photo. I have not heard of a mole being fed on by bass or any other fish, but I'm not surprised," Peter Lisi, a post-doctoral scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Limnology, and lead author of the 2013 paper, told me in an email. He noted that bass eat lots of terrestrial and semi-aquatic animals.
"I would guess that a bass would have no problem digesting a mole if the bass is large enough to swallow it whole. They might have some issue passing the long front claws. Yikes! Cartilaginous tails and spinal columns of mammals are the last thing to be digested in fish stomachs," he said.
Lisi thinks it's possible the mole was dropped into the water by another predator, such as a bird, or flushed into the pond by high water. "There are examples of moles swimming to cross a water body… The way it was positioned crawling out of the bass's mouth makes me believe the mole was consumed alive. I think mole would have drowned before being able to do any damage to the bass."
Here's a video of a mole swimming:
"They seem to do quite well on tasty little furry creatures. Bass eat unsuspecting birds too," Schindler added.
"Largemouth bass eat everything, including fish, crayfish, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and birds. When they are introduced to areas where they don't naturally occur, then they can wreak havoc on the natural food web," Tierra Curry, a Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist, told me in an email.
Less surprisingly, sharks are also known to gulp down some strange stuff, too. As pointed out to me by Trevor Branch, an associate professor at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, things reportedly found in tiger shark stomachs include: a common mole-rat, a South African porcupine, a blue duiker, humans, and a whole lot of our trash.
As for the largemouth bass with a taste for mole, he probably lived to swim another day.
While the mole was dead on arrival, and "looked pretty fresh like within the last couple days or so," Mackinney wrote on Instagram, "the bass swam off just fine!"
This story has been updated to include comments from stream and lake ecologist Peter Lisi, and Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Tierra Curry.