Scientific Name: Family Exocoetidae
Description: Flying fish are ray-finned fish with highly modified pectoral fins. Despite their name, flying fish aren’t capable of powered flight. Instead, they propel themselves out of the water at speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. Once in the air, their rigid “wings” allow them to glide for up to 200 meters. The wing-like pectoral fins are primarily for gliding—they hold the fins flat at their sides when swimming. Their streamlined bodies reduce drag when the fish are “flying.” If their beautiful wings aren’t enough to identify them by, another characteristic of flying fish is an unevenly forked tail. The top lobe of their tail is shorter than the bottom.
Size: Flying fish are up to 18 inches long but average 7 to 12 inches.
Predation: It is thought that flying fish evolved a flying mechanism to escape from their many oceanic predators. Once in the air, though, they sometimes become food for birds. Young flying fish may have filaments protruding from their lower jaws that camouflage them as plant blossoms.
Habitat: Open ocean provides habitat for most flying fish, but some are found on the outskirts of coral reefs.
Range: Flying fish are tropical and temperate marine species that can be seen off of both U.S. coasts. They are found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.
Life History and Reproduction: Spawning takes place in the open ocean, and eggs are attached to seaweed and floating debris by sticky filaments.
Some flying fish also have wing-like pelvic fins that help them to glide. These species are called four-winged flying fish.
Conservation Status: Stable. Flying fish are commercially fished in some places. They are relatively easy to catch because of their tendency to leap into small, well-lit boats.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
National Geographic Society
Hobart and William Smith Colleges