squid eats skua.....from the inside out!!
Text and photos by: Philip Coetzee

On Sunday 16 September 2001, a day or so after the severe storms in Cape Town and surroundings, I saw a dark brown bird on the beach in Strand. On closer investigation, it was identified as a Subantarctic Skua (Catharacta antarctica). The bird was clearly not well. I decided to catch it and take it to the Helderberg Wild Animal Rescue Centre in Gordon's Bay. First, I took several photos of it sitting on the beach. It was through the telephoto lens of the camera that I saw there was something strange, a “wormlike” creature, on the chest of this bird.

The Subantarctic Skua clearly showing the "protrusion" on it's chest.

It proved quite easy to catch the bird. It was so tired that it almost did not struggle. This bird clearly had not eaten for several days. At the rehabilitation centre, we carefully looked at this “wormlike” creature stuck to the chest of the bird. We were unable to remove it or even identify it. Jacky, from the centre, tried to re-hydrate the bird, but with very little success. About an hour and a half later the bird died.

We thought that the “worm” on the bird's chest must be a parasite. I phoned the University of Cape Town, but had no luck in locating a parasitologist. Driving home that afternoon, I happened to pass a car with an Onderstepoort logo on the door. I waved at the people and made them pull over. At first they thought they were being hijacked, but fortunately for me, they did not shoot. I explained to them what I wanted and also told them of this bird. The occupants of the car looked rather puzzled. I gathered from their comments that there was a conference of parasitologists in a hotel in Gordon's Bay. So, Prof Boomker, a birder and parasitologist of Onderstepoort offered to take the bird to Pretoria to try and identify the “parasite”.

About a week later, my home phone rang. Prof. Boomker had an opportunity to look at the skua and he had some interesting news. The protrusion on the chest of the bird was not a “worm” or parasite as we thought. It was actually a squid or octopus or cuttlefish of some kind. The bird had swallowed this creature whole and while it was still alive.

The "animal" that did the damage.

This creature then started to chew its way out of the skua. It could only got as far as getting some parts of itself out before it died, probably due to being partially digested in the bird's crop. The bird died due to a loss of blood and because it could not feed with this animal stuck partially in and partially out of its throat.

The hole in the skua's chest where the squid tried to exit.

I did place this account, although shortened, on the SABirdnet. The only responses I got were of two gulls found in Europe that had apparently each swallowed a rat. One of the gulls was found dead with a hole in its body, but no rat. In the other case, the bird and rat were found dead. The only other feedback I received was of a heron that also apparently swallowed a live rat. The bird was found dead, with a hole chewed through it from the inside, as in the case of the gulls. As far as I know, this is the first record of a bird dying after being eaten by its food.

Have you ever heard or seen anything like this before? Please email us and let us know your similar story.

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