Flying Gurnard

Flying Gurnard, Dactylopterus volitans

The Flying Gurnard, Dactylopterus volitans, whose common Spanish name is alón volador, is a species in the Flying Gurnard or Dactylopteridae Family, known collectively as alones in Mexico. Globally, there are only seven species in the Dactylopteridae family placed in two genera and a this single fish of the genus Dactylopterus, which is found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic.

The Flying Gurnards have moderately elongated odd box-shaped bodies with a square cross section that tapers posteriorly. They are highly variable in coloration including various shades of yellowish-brown and dusky colors with pale body spots; their large fan-like pectoral fins are covered with white spots and bright blue lines and spots. Under stress their pectoral fins become semi-transparent with a beautiful phosphorescent bright blue coloration. Their head is large and blunt and covered with hard scute-like scales. They have disproportionately large eyes and a small mouth that opens ventrally with a band of small nodular teeth. The lower corner of their preopercle has a long spine with a serrated keel that tapers posteriorly. They have a short anal fin with six rays, a slightly concave caudal fin with two sharp keels at the base, and two dorsal fins, the first with six spines (the first two spines being standalone) and the second with one spine and eight rays. Their pelvic fins are below the pectoral base. They are close relatives to the Sea Robins and are remarkable for their enormous pectoral fins which when laid back reach the base of the caudal fin and when spread take the form of enormous rounded fanlike wings. The front portion of these “wings” is shaped like the foot of an amphibian, giving the fish a “lizard-like” appearance. Their pectoral fins have a horizontal base with 6 short rays above and 26 to 30 long rays below. They possess a swim bladder with two lobes and a “drumming muscle” that can beat against the swim bladder to produce sound. They are covered with sharp bony scales which have sharp keels.

The Flying Gurnards are a demersal species found over and within sandy and muddy bottoms at depths up to 270 feet. They reach a maximum length of 45 cm (18 inches). They are very similar to Sea Robins and are able to “walk” along sandy sea floors seeking crustaceans and other small invertebrates for food. As a defense mechanism, they can spread their large pectoral fins and appear much bigger than they actually are.

In Mexican waters the Flying Gurnards are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Flying Gurnard are sold commercially on a limited basis by the aquarium trade.

Flying Gurnard, Dactylopterus volitans. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Isla Mujeras, Cancun, May 2012. Length: approximately 30 cm (12 inches). Photo courtesy of Dean Brittenham, Garwin, Iowa. Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.