travelling on a boat through a tropical ocean, you may be
surprised to see "flying fish" leaping from the
water and "flying" through the air. But can fish really fly???
fish can easily be identified by their huge "flying
fins" and lopsided tails. Flying fish are capable of
jumping out of the water and gliding through the air over
considerable distances. Two-winged flying fish have exceptionally
large pectoral fins that they spread out like wings during
gliding flights. In addition to huge pectoral fins, four-winged
flying fish also have enlarged pelvic fins used for gliding.
Flying fish have deeply forked tails and the lower lobe of
the tail is much longer and larger than the upper lobe. In
preparation for flight, flying fish swim quickly towards
the water's surface and leap out of the water. Once they
are out of the water, the fish use their large wing-like
fins and the large lower lobe of their tail to glide through
the air. The enlarged lower lobe of the tail acts like an
outboard motor, the speedy sideways motion of the tail allows
the fish to gain height from the surface of the water, and
extend the flight time. Fish can glide as far as 100 metres
and as high as one metre above the surface of the water,
but most flights are shorter.
There are over 50 species of flying fishes belonging to the Family Exocoetidae. They are mostly marine fishes of small to medium size. The largest flying fish can reach lengths of 45 cms, but most species measure less than 30 cms in length. Young fish look quite different from the adults; they have a variegated colour pattern and a large pair of flaplike whiskers. The whiskers extend downward from the end of the lower jaw, and may be longer than the fish itself. The whiskers disappear as the fish grow, and are not found on adult flying fish.
This photo of an adult flying fish
photographic studies have shown that flying fish hold their
enlarged pectoral fins relatively steady, and glide through
the air in a manner similar to other gliding animals like
flying squirrels, lizards, and snakes. Flying fish do not
fly in the same way as birds, because birds vibrate their
wings during flight.
use their unusual flying talent to escape predators such
as swordfish, tunas, and other larger fishes. Flying
fishes eat small crustaceans and other planktonic animals.
1961. Living Fishes of the world. Doubleday & Company
Inc., New York.
1984. Fishes of the world, 2nd edition. John Wiley & Sons
Inc., New York.
and Cech, Joseph. 1982. Fishes An Introduction to Ichthyology.
Prentice-Hall Inc., New Jersey.
National Geograpic's flying fish page
to marine biodiversity index