More than 40 species of flying fish, ranging from six to 20 inches long, can be found skittering or gliding across scintillating oceans around the world. While these fish usually fall prey to swift predators from above and below the water's surface, they’re also capable of feats unobtainable by any other species.
If you have been on a boat in the tropics, chances are you’ve seen a captivating eruption of flight put on by flying fish. While these fish are not technically flying, they are able to launch themselves from the water, extend their fins, and glide for quite a distance.
These glides can be extended by wind and waves to glide over 1,300 feet. This is just over 430 yards, or a quarter mile. For comparison, the southern flying squirrel tops out at around 50 yards.
In ideal conditions, flying fish can also glide to over 25 feet above the surface of the water. This means that these fish could jump over the tower of many popular sport fishing boats. While height is rarely important for marine creatures, dolphins can attain a similar altitude if they jump vertical.
For flying fish, gliding this high or for this long is a dangerous game because their predators are lurk above and below the water. While a marlin or sailfish may chase flying fish to the surface, the appropriately named “Magnificent Frigatebird” commonly feeds on flying fish from the air when they’re exposed.
After their wing like fins, one of the most unique characteristics of a flying fish is their tail. With a forked tail that has a significantly larger bottom half, flying fish are able to glide just above the water while kicking their tail. The extended section of tail dips low enough to contact the water, allowing them to push off the water with enough force to keep them in a steady glide.
This tail feature is especially useful before, after, and between flights, because flying fish are able to make up to 12 consecutive flights. These low skimming glides are particularly useful in avoiding predators, because at anytime they can take off or dive depending on the threat.
Another interesting evolutionary asset flying fish have is a pyramid shaped cornea. The outer most surface of their eyes is a shaped like a pyramid, allowing them to not only see in the water, but also in the air during flight.
Flying fish are known to eat a variety of foods, but the majority of their diet consists of plankton. On some occasions, they will eat crustaceans and other small creatures.
The most common species of flying fish that we see in the U.S. have two large pectoral fins that are used as wings, while other species have four. The additional pair of wings are enlarged pelvic fins that help four winged flying fish glide.
The majority of research done on flying fish comes from one biologist who’s name couldn’t be more fitting:Frank Fish. Frank is a biologist that spent years researching these peculiar fish. His efforts resulted in the discovery of most of what is known about these fish, with a few exceptions.
Flying fish are harvested commercially and are generally thought to be easy to catch. These fish are less difficult to catch because they’re attracted to light and will often jump into small boats that are well lit.
The skeleton of a flying fish is reinforced to better hold up to flight. Particularly the skull and spine are built more rigid to help the fish achieve such incredible flights.
While flying fish may not have the powerful prowess like many of the larger and more sought after pelagic species, they more than make up for it with enchanting displays of flight. If you want to see flying fish first hand, get out there and hit the water with one of our fishing charters. To see all of our charters check out our link here.
Updated on January 1, 2023
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