Animal Species:Purple Flying Gurnard, Dactyloptena orientalis (Cuvier, 1829)

The Purple Flying Gurnard can be recognised by its huge pectoral fins that are covered with dark spots and wavy lines. The species occurs from the Western Indian Ocean to Polynesia.

Standard Common Name

Purple Flying Gurnard

Alternative Name/s

Flying Gurnard, Indo-Pacific Flying Gurnard, Oriental Helmet Gurnard, Oriental Searobin


The Purple Flying Gurnard has a very wide interorbital space and huge pectoral fins. These fins are covered with dark spots and wavy lines. Each fin ray has feeler-like extensions.  The species has a blunt head, wide interorbital space, and a grey to brown body that is covered with dark brown to black spots.

Size range

It grows to 38 cm in length.


The Purple Flying Gurnard occurs from East Africa to Polynesia. In Australia it is recorded around the northern half of the country from the central coast of Western Australia to southern New South Wales.

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

Dactyloptena orientalis

Distribution by collection data

Ozcam map of Purple Flying Gurnard specimens in the Australian Museums.

What does this mean?


The Purple Flying Gurnard lives in a range of habitats including estuaries, coastal bays and deep sandy areas. It is often seen in water less than 10 m in depth, but is also caught in trawls down to 100 m.

Other behaviours and adaptations

The pectoral fins are usually held against the sides of the body. When the fish is disturbed, it quickly expands its pectoral fins, often retracting them before swimming off at speed. Despite its common name, the Purple Flying Gurnard does not fly. It can however "walk" on the bottom by alternatively moving the pelvic fins and short pectoral fin rays.



What does this mean?


  1. Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia. Crawford House Press. Pp. 437.
  2. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.
  3. Paxton, J.R., D.F. Hoese, G.R. Allen & J.E. Hanley. 1989. Zoological Catalogue of Australia Vol.7 Pisces Petromyzontidae to Carangidae. Canberra: Australian Biological Resources Survey. Pp. i-xii, 1-665.
  4. Poss, S.G. & W.N. Eschmeyer. in Carpenter, K.E & V.H. Niem. 1999. The Living Marine Resources of the Wstern Central Pacific. Volume 4. Bony fishes part 2 (Mugilidae to Carangidae). FAO. Rome Pp. iii-v, 2069-2790.
  5. Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press. Pp. 557.

Mark McGrouther , Senior Fellow
Last Updated:

Tags fish, ichthyology, Flying Gurnard, Dactyloptena orientalis, sandy bottom, Purple Flying Gurnard, Dactylopteridae, huge pectoral fins, dark spots, dots/spots, wavy lines, stripes or bands, Oriental Searobin, blunt head, grey, brown, 30 cm - 1 m, estuaries, coastal bays, deep sandy areas, shallow water, marine, Indo-Pacific Flying Gurnard,