flying fish, common name for members of the Exocoetidae, a family of carnivorous or herbivorous fish of warmer seas. Flying fishes usually swim in schools. They average 7 to 12 in. (17.5–30 cm) in length and have pectoral fins that compare in size with the wings of birds; in some species the pelvic fins also are enlarged. Of the latter type, best known in Atlantic waters are the four-winged flying fish and the bearded flying fish, named for the long barbels around the mouths of the young. The young of many species of flying fishes resemble blossoms of the plant Baringtonia and are thus protected from predators. The California flying fish ( Cypselurus californicus ), the largest (up to 18 in./45 cm) of the family, is common in the Pacific; the black-winged flying fish is found in both oceans. Flying fishes generally do not actually fly, but glide on their outstretched fins for distances of up to 1/4 mi (0.4 km). Their velocity (up to 30 mi/48 km per hour) builds as they approach the water's surface until they launch themselves into the air, vibrating their specially adapted tail fins in order to taxi along the surface. The flying gurnard of the South Atlantic has enormous pectorals and makes short leaps clear of the water. A 3-in. (7.5 cm) characin of the Amazon basin actually flies short distances by buzzing its winglike fins. Flying fishes are excellent food; their aerial talents help them to avoid the tuna, mackerel, and dolphins that prey on them. Flying fishes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Beloniformes, family Exocoetidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.