Spotfin Flyingfish, Cheilopogon furcatus Click to enlarge image
A Spotfin Flyingfish in the Western Pacific, March 2009. Geoff took a number of flying fish photos over 2 days. He commented that he was amazed at how many different species there were and the size range from as small as your little finger to 450mm long. Image: Geoff Jones
© Geoff Jones

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    sp.
    Genus
    Cheilopogon
    Family
    Exocoetidae
    Order
    Beloniformes
    Class
    Actinopterygii
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    Flyingfishes range in length from 14 cm to 46 cm.

Introduction

Flyingfishes don't really fly - they glide.

Identification

Flyingfishes can be recognised by their huge pectoral fins. They can be loosely divided into two types. The four-wing flyingfishes (like that in the images) have both the pectoral and pelvic fins enlarged.



Distribution

They are found near the surface of all tropical and some temperate marine waters.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Source: Atlas of Living Australia.



Feeding and diet

Most have small mouths and eat plankton.

Other behaviours and adaptations

'Flying':

Flying fishes are well known for their gliding (rather than flying) ability. They can glide for 200 m or more. These fishes are often seen taxiing just above the water surface, rapidly beating the water with the large lower lobe of the caudal fin.

The two-wing flyingfishes have enlarged pectoral fins only. They generally do not glide as far at the four-wing flyingfishes.

Flyingfishes use their gliding ability to escape from predators. A flying fish will commonly glide at double its swimming speed. Some species have been known to accelerate from a fast swimming speed of about 36 km/hour to as much as 72 km/hour in air.

Unless the day is sunny and the water is particularly still, a pursuing predator will not be able to see a flying fish in the air because of refraction at the water surface.

Eye shape:

Most fishes have curved corneas. Flyingfishes have flattened corneas that enable them to focus in and out of the water. This didn't seem to help the fish in the image. It was caught after its flight was abruptly terminated by District Fisheries Officer M. Proctor's head.

References

  1. Carter, G.S. 1945. The flight of flying-fishes. Endeavour IV (16). Pp. 5.
  2. Collette, B.B. & N.V. Parin in Paxton, J.R. & W.N. Eschmeyer (Eds). 1994. Encyclopedia of Fishes. Sydney: New South Wales University Press; San Diego: Academic Press [1995]. Pp. 240.
  3. Gomon, M.F. in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 1994. The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. Pp. 992.
  4. Helfman, G.S., Collette, B.B. & D.E. Facey. 1997. The Diversity of Fishes. Blackwell Science. Pp. 528.