How the osprey is an ultimate fisher

December 8, 2014, 1:25 p.m.

In medieval times it was said that fish were so intimidated by the osprey that they simply went belly-up in surrender. While that of course isn't true, it's easy to understand how the myth came into being. The osprey is a raptor found all over the world, thriving around bodies of water that have plenty of fish to eat. The eagle has adapted in many ways to be an expert at catching their speedy, slippery prey.

First, their powerful eyesight allows them to spot fish while flying 30-100 feet above the surface of the water. The eagle makes a dive and goes in feet first to grab its prey. It is these specially adapted feet that are essential to their success. An osprey's outer toes are reversible, meaning the raptor can turn them facing forward or backward in order to get the best grip. Each toe is tipped with a sharp talon, and the backs of their talons have backward-facing scales that act like barbs to further strengthen the hold on their slippery prey. The bottom of each toe has spicules, sharp structures that make their feet like sandpaper, which helps them get the ultimate grip on their catch. And finally, ospreys have closable nostrils so water won't go up their nose when they dive.

With such adaptations specific to a fishy diet, it is no wonder that this species is found on every continent except Antarctica happily snatching fish out of lakes for lunch like it's no trouble at all.