Flyingfish Family Photos and Information – Exocoetidae

The Flyingfish Family – Exocoetidae

Sharpchin Flyingfish, Fodiator acutus, a representative member of the Flyingfish or Exocoetidae Family.

The Flyingfish or Exocoetidae Family, known as voladores in Mexico, are elongated cigar-shaped fish that reach a maximum length of 45 cm (18 inches). Globally, there are sixty family members that have been placed in nine genera, of which twenty-five are found in Mexican waters, nine in the Atlantic, fourteen in the Pacific and two in both oceans. They are named for their ability to emerge quickly from the water and glide for long distances (200 to 1,000 feet) reaching altitudes of 20 feet and speeds of 43 mph while remaining airborne for up to 45 seconds. They do so as a natural defense mechanism against predation. They are dark dorsally and pale ventrally with an overall iridescent blue-green color. Some species have dorsal fins with black pigmentation, while others have pectoral fins with dark spots or pale stripes. They have short heads, blunt snouts, and small short blunt mouths with minute teeth or no teeth. They have one anal fin and one dorsal fin, which are opposite and set well back on their body. Their caudal fin is deeply forked with rounded tips and a much longer lower lobe. Their pectoral fins are high on the sides and greatly enlarged; they reach past the dorsal fin origin and can be locked in place to serve as “wings”. Their pelvic fins are on the abdomen, well behind the pectoral fin base and greatly enlarged in some species. Their lateral fine is low on the body. They are covered with large scales.

 The Flyingfish are primarily an oceanic schooling pelagic species found in abundance in all surface tropical and subtropical waters normally in the epipelagic zone (surface to 600 feet). Some visit coastal areas close to the outer edge of coral reefs over deep water. Others get fairly close to shore often driven by larger predators. They feed on planktonic organisms and small fish. In turn they are preyed upon by birds, dolphins, dorado, marlins, porpoises, squid, and tuna. Reproduction is oviparous with the release of large sticky filaments that attach to floating or benthic weeds. Juveniles are very different in appearance from adults; they have shorter pectoral fins and their color patterns include spots and bars.

The Flyingfish are fished commercially in some Asian countries primarily by gill netting. Global catches are on the order of 3,000 tons per annum. In the Solomon Islands they are caught at night with nets held from outrigger canoes on moonless nights with torches used to attract fish. They and their roe are considered a delicacy in some cultures. They are marketed fresh, dried salted, or as fermented fish paste. They are attracted to light and are fairly common on the decks of small transoceanic ships at first daylight. The Flyingfish date to the Middle Triassic period, 240 million years ago.

The Flyingfish are very elusive, thus quality scientific photographs of most species are not yet available. The photographs in this website are some of the best available.

There are eight members of the Flyingfish Family, seven from the Pacific and one found in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, presented in this website:

Tropical Two-wing Flyingfish, Exocoetus volitans
Beautyfin Flyingfish, Cypselurus callopterus
Blackwing Flyingfish, Hirundichthys rondeletii
Butterfly Flyingfish, Cheilopogon papilio
Mirrorwing Flyingfish, Hirundichthys speculger
Narrowhead Flyingfish, Cypselurus angusticeps
Sharpchin Flyingfish, Fodiator acutus
Smallhead Flyingfish, Cheilopogon pinnatibarbatus
Tropical Two-wing Flyingfish, Exocoetus volitans

Note: the Smallwing Flyingfish, Oxyporhamphus micropterus, has been placed in the Halfbeak Family by the scientific community for reasons totally unclear to me.