‘Flying’ fish occur across tropical seas and are famous for their unlikely ability to leap out of the water and whizz through the air above the waves.

How do flying fish fly?

All of the 50 or so species of flying fish have impressive ‘wings’, composed of either one or two pairs of wide, elongated fins that they unfurl to perform their aeronautical acrobatics.

Strictly speaking, these fish aren’t flying, but gliding. They don’t flap their wings, but build up speed underwater with beats of their tail, then launch through the waterline and glide, wings steady, like paper aeroplanes. Researchers have discovered that the animals are as efficient at gliding as hawks.

Why do they 'fly'?

Flying fish go to the effort of leaving their normal habitat in order to escape predators who can’t see through the mirror-like surface of the sea. They are also able to change direction while airborne and plop back down in a spot where their enemies won’t be expecting them.

Main image: Flying fish above water, Chinijo Archipelago, Canary Islands © Getty Images


Dr Helen Scales is a marine biologist, broadcaster and science writer. She is the author of Spirals in Time and The Brilliant Abyss.