Exocetidae  (Flying Fish)


Division: volitan
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Beloniformes
Family: Exocoetidae

Geographic Range

Members of the Exocoetidae family are located in the warm waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.

Physical Characteristics

Length:17.5-30cm (7-12in.)
Flying Fish exhibit long, wing-like pectoral fins that run nearly the length of their bodies and compare in size to the wings of a small bird. Some species have unusually large pelvic fins, which gives them a four-winged appearance. They contain a forked caudal fin and a dully pointed or rounded snout. The scales on the head and body are large and soft.

Natural History

Food Habits

Members of the Exocoetidae family can be herbivorous or carnivorous. Some Flying Fish feed on various small fish, crustaceans, and zooplankton.


Flying Fish spawn in the open ocean around floating weeds and debris. Round eggs are generally equipped with tufts of long filaments that help to anchor the eggs in seaweeds.


Exocoetidae are fast-swimming fish that utilize their powerful tail and pectoral fins to fly for distances of 41 to 183 meters across the water surface. The decision for flight is believed to be in response to pursuit by other fishes. The tail is used to jump out of the water when enough speed is gathered, and the pectoral fins enable the fish to glide across the surface. Flying Fish can obtain a maximum altitude of 11m (36ft) and can reach a velocity of up to 30 mi/48 km per hour in flight. Exocoetidae usually will swim and glide in schools.


Most Flying Fish are found in the tropical or subtropical waters of seas, but sometimes, certain species range further north. Members of the Exocoetidae family are surface-dwellers that inhabit warm, open waters.


Within the family Exocoetidae, there are 8 genera containing 52 species of Flying Fish spread throughout the waters of the world. The most common Flying Fish, Exocoetus volitans, is found in the Atlantic Ocean. Other species include the Great Flying Fish off of California, classified as Cypselurus californicus, and the Sharpshin Flying Fish found off the waters of Central America and classified as Fodiator acutus.

Economic Benefits for Humans


Flying Fish are served in a variety of different manners as a popular food for many people. They have a pleasant, savory flavor and a firm texture. Flying Fish can also be used as rigged trolling bait for marlins, dolphin, and other big-game fish.


It is possible for Flying Fish to leap far enough out of the water and strike unsuspecting boaters, thus resulting in possible injury.


For protection against predation during the early stages their lives, the young of many species of Flying Fishes resemble blossoms of the plant Baringtonia. The young have long filaments that hang from their lower jaws, and are later lost at maturity. Aside from this, while in flight, Flying Fish serve as prey for certain species of birds. They also serve as food for sharks, tuna, porpoises, bluefish, marlin, and dolphins.

References and Links

Reference URL: http://library.thinkquest.org/11922/fish/flyingfish.htm

Reference URL: http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/FamilySummary.cfm?ID=206

Reference URL: http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/27/02794000.htm?z=1&pg=2&br=1

Reference URL: http://www.insidesportfishing.com/Encyclopedia/Articles/2049.asp

Reference URL: http://www.slider.com/enc/19000/flying_fish.htm

Entry Author: Richard Misiaszek Union College 2003

Hobart & William Smith Colleges and Union College
Partnership for Global Education: Queensland Term 2001