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Flying Fish: Facts on the Fish that Flies

written by: Vasanth•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 12/14/2010

The flying fish is a unique marine animal that is capable of launching itself into the air and gliding for several hundred feet before returning to the water. There are several facts of flying fish presented here including their species, behavior, reproduction, diet, and their symbolism.

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    The flying fish has captured the imagination of people throughout the world for centuries. Its remarkable ability to glide in the air places it among the most interesting animals on the planet. The following facts of flying fish provide a well-rounded, informative profile on this unique fish.

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    Flying fish is the common term for a group of fish within the Exococetidae animal family. Exococetidae is a Greek word which means to 'lie down outside'. There are about 40 species of flying fish in the world. Some of the species include the Japanese flying fish, scientifically known as Cheilopogon agoo and the California flying fish, scientifically known as Cypselurus californicus.

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    Flying fish are found throughout the world. It is usually found in tropical to subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. It is abundant in the Caribbean Sea as well.

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    The flying fish is typically 7 to 12 inches in length, but some species grow up to 18 inches. The top half of the flying fish is bluish-gray and the underside is grayish-silver. The flying fish features large pectoral fins that can spread out like a bird's wing. The tail of the flying fish is deeply forked, but is uneven, with the lower end of the tail longer than the upper end. The lower jaw of some species is much larger than the upper jaw.

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    Flying fish tend to swim in schools, which is one of the lesser known facts of flying fish in particular. When threatened by predators, flying fish break the surface of the water and glide several hundred feet in the air before returning to the water. The process of gliding begins by building up speed in the water. This usually requires the flying fish to flap its tail back and forth rapidly. As the flying fish approaches the surface, it can reach a speed as fast as 37 mph. Once the surface is broken, the flying fish spreads its pectoral wings and tilts it upward to glide up. Flying fish can often reach up over four feet in the air and can remain airborne for up to 655 feet.

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    Some species of flying fish tend to swarm in large numbers during the mating season, which usually occurs when the ocean currents are at their weakest. Depending on the region, this will fall either during the spring or the fall. Up to one million flying fish have been observed in a single area during spawning.

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    The Young

    Flying fish eggs are deposited near the surface of the water, usually attached to floating debris. As the young hatch, they are vulnerable to predators. Luckily, most of the young can hide in plain sight since they hardly look like adult flying fish at birth. The young of most flying fish species have long whiskers around the mouth, which make it look like the flower produced by plants in the Barringtonia genus.

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    Feeding Habit

    The flying fish usually feeds during the night time near the surface of the water. In addition to avoiding predators, certain species of flying fish scoop up prey with their extended lower jaw while gliding above the surface of the water.

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    The diet of the flying fish is mainly composed of plankton. Plankton consists of tiny animals, plants, and bacteria.

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    The flying fish has several predators including tuna, mackerel, swordfish, marlin and of course, humans (through fishing).

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    Symbolic Meaning

    Sailfin flyingfish The flying fish has important meaning to local cultures due to its large abundance. Here are some more interesting flying fish facts:

    • The flying fish is the national fish of Barbados.
    • The country of Barbados was once known as 'The Land of the Flying Fish'.
    • The flying fish appears on coins, and there are several sculptures of the flying fish in Barbados.

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    Image Credit

    David Starr Jordan and Barton Warren Evermann from Wikimedia Commons