Flying fish are marine animals that make powerful self-propelled leaps out of the water for relatively short distances, ranging from 50 feet (15 meters) to 1,000 feet (300 meters). This behavior helps them to escape from underwater predators like mackerel and swordfish. However, it can expose them to threats since they are a food source for some species of birds and fish.

Flying fish is found in all the oceans of the world. However, they are most common in tropical and subtropical waters. In particular, you are more likely to see them in large numbers in the epipelagic zone (From the ocean’s top layer to about 200 meters (656 feet). In this article, we’ll delve deep into the flying fish’s appearance, diet, habitat, reproduction, and threats facing it. Moreover, we’ll look at some of the most interesting facts and answer frequently asked questions about this fascinating group of fish.

Appearance

The flying fish are small, typically measuring from 4 to 12 inches or 10 to 30 cm. Besides, they are widely known for their long, torpedo-shaped bodies, silvery or blue scales, and vertically forked tails.

Flying fish shortly after take-off
Flying fish shortly after take-off

Credit: NOAA

However, the most prominent features of these long, slender fish are their wing-shaped pectoral fins that they use to self-propel themselves out of water. Sometimes, they are up to twice long as the fish. Some flying fish also have another set of ‘wing,’ modified pelvic fins.

Another exciting feature of the flying fish that we should mention here is the large eyes and small mouths that help them to feed and lead their lives in peace.

Diet

 Flying fish are opportunistic feeders. In simple terms, they can feed on a wide variety of tiny marine organisms, including crustaceans and small fish. However, plankton makes ups the most significant part of their diet.

Habitat

 Flying fish are found mainly in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. But you can find them in almost all of the world’s oceans, up to a depth of 650 feet. However, they are most common in tropical and subtropical waters.  

As we’ve seen here, flying fish prefer to live in shallow coastal waters. That rightly implies that you can find them near coral reefs and other places in the ocean with plenty of vegetation.

Flying fish are rare in cold places because the weather interferes with the muscular function required to glide through the air.

These marine animals are common around the Caribbean to the extent that they are the national symbol of Barbados because the environment in this region is highly favorable.

Reproduction

Millions of flying fish congregate yearly for the spawning season. During this period, the females release plenty of eggs into the water. After fertilization, the fish attaches the eggs to floating debris or a piece of seaweed via a sticky filament. Once the larvae hatch, they swim and feed on their own.

These young ones can fly after reaching about two inches and can live for up to about five years.

Threats

 Flying fish face several threats, including overfishing, habitat loss, and pollution of carbon sinks. They are also sometimes caught as bycatch in commercial fishing operations.

Many people also eat flying fish eggs as roe. Besides, these animals are mainly on their own after birth, exposing them to the risk of perishing. Remember that they gain the ability to fly after hitting about two inches.  

Flying fish leap from the water to escape death
Flying fish leap from the water to escape death

Very few flying fish are at risk, though. The UICN Red List classifies them as ‘Least Concern.’

Facts About Flying Fish

  1. Flying fish glide through the air for short distances.
  2. They are found mainly in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.
  3. Flying fish are attracted to light, and fishers use this knowledge to catch plenty of the fish at once
  4. Most species of flying fish are small, ranging from 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm).
  5. You can’t keep flying fish in an aquarium
  6. These marine animals have long, wing-like fins that they use to propel themselves into the air.
  7. Flying fish is often used as a symbol of good luck
  8. They are an essential food source for many marine animals, including tuna, marlin, and dolphins.
  9. Flying fish are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of tiny marine organisms.
  10. They prefer to live in shallow coastal waters and are often found near coral reefs.


FAQs

How many species of flying fish do we have?

There are close to 40 species of flying fish, which are spread across seven main groups. One of the most common ones is the blue flying fish. Its upper half is an iridescent blue. The black-wing flying fish, which is known for its dark blue, almost purple upper half, is the next. Four-wing flying fish is another common one, and it has four ‘wings,’ as the name suggests.

Why are flying fish an integral part of the world’s oceans?

Flying fish are an integral part of the food chain in most of the world’s tropical marine environments because they get nutrients from smaller prey, such as crustaceans. At the same time, they provide nutrients for larger predators, such as birds, squid, tuna, and marlins. This way, they ensure that all living things in tropical marine environments have access to enough food sources.  

Does flying fish fly?

When you hear about flying fish, you might think that this fish ray-finned fish with highly modified pectoral fins are capable of powered flight like many birds do. However, they can only propel themselves into the air at speeds of about 56km/hour for short distances. Depending on size, age, and the nature of the threat, these fish can propel themselves out of the water for distances ranging from 50 feet (15 meters) to 1,000 feet (300 meters).

How can you catch flying fish with ease?

Given the ability of flying fish to ‘fly,’ you might think it’s difficult to catch them. However, humans have been catching them easily over the decades since they are attracted to light. You can use a canoe filled with water and light attached to it. The light will lure plenty of flying fish to leap into the canoe, and they can’t get enough speed while inside the canoe to jump back into the water.