Colossal 280-Pound Catfish Caught in Italy

The "megafish" is known for snatching birds off the shore.

An Italian angler made the catch of his life this week, hauling in a 280-pound catfish from the Po River (above, the angler can be seen catching a slightly smaller catfish in 2013).

Dino e Dario Ferrari's catch was 8.75 feet (2.67 meters) long. He promptly released the animal back into the river, after posing for pictures.

According to fish biologist and National Geographic explorer Zeb Hogan, the animal is a wels catfish, the largest freshwater fish in Europe.

Wels catfish have been known to grow up to 15 feet (4.6 meters) long and reach sizes of 300 to 660 pounds, depending on the source. They can live for decades, possibly as long as 80 years.

"Fish keep growing as they age, and this one was definitely on the older end," says Hogan, who hosts the show Monster Fish on Nat Geo Wild.

Wels catfish are native to Eastern Europe but were introduced to Italy and Spain in the 1970s by anglers. The fish have flourished in southern Europe, enjoying a respite from natural predators, an abundance of prey, and warmer water, which helps them grow faster.

The big catfish are opportunistic feeders, taking a wide variety of other fish as well as rodents and even birds, which they sometimes catch by beaching themselves (see video below).

Wels catfish are one of the few large species of freshwater fish that aren't endangered, Hogan says. (Learn more about megafish.)

Hogan will speak at National Geographic headquarters in Washington on March 26, following the opening of the new exhibit "Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants."

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