Flying Gurnard Fish Facts: These Fish Have Wings but They Prefer to Walk

The ocean is full of fascinating and mysterious creatures, and the flying gurnard is no exception. From its mesmerizing wing display to its peculiar feeding habits, this fish is a true wonder of the ocean. So, get ready to be blown away, because we’re about to uncover some truly incredible facts about the Flying gurnard.  

Flying gurnard
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Syngnathiformes
Family: Dactylopteridae

1. Flying gurnard Fish have wings

The flying gurnard fish, also referred to as the helmet gurnard is a unique and striking fish species. There are 7 types of flying gurnards, which are classified into 2 genera. These fish have a size ranging from 20 – 50 centimeters (8 – 20 in) in length and weigh about 1.8 kg (4.0 lb).

They have a nearly rounded, elongated body that tapers towards their tail, with a large and blunt head covered in hard, scaly plates. A long, flexible appendage is located on top of the head, behind the eyes. Their eyes are disproportionately huge and have brilliant orange rims.

A gorgeous flying gurnard is swimming
Dactylopterus volitans/Cre: on pic

In contrast to the head and the eyes, their mouth is quite small. This appearance gives them a frog-like look when viewed from the side.

The most highlighted feature of flying gurnards is their gigantic wings, which are actually fan-shaped pectoral fins. Their other fins are also quite unusual. The dorsal fin is split, and the two pelvic fins are positioned forward, underneath the body.

These fish have a wide range of color variations as well as different tones of color. Dactylopterus volitans, for example, may exhibit a light greenish color or a mix of dark and light brown shades with pale body dots. Their underside is white.

Their enormous “wings” are adorned with white and dark dots. These fins turn semi-transparent and emit a stunning phosphorescent blue color when the fish is stressed.

These species look like the sea robin

About purple or Oriental flying gurnards (Dactyloptena orientalis), they generally have a light brown body with reddish brown markings and a blueish shade in some parts. Underwater, the pelvic fins seem purple, but they display a light blue and yellow patterned appearance when well-lit. At night, the body takes on a more pronounced blue tint, which fades quickly when exposed to light.

The name “gurnard” derives from the French word meaning “grunt”. This is because these fish are known to produce growling sounds via their swim bladder.

2. Habitat

Among 7 flying gurnard species, most of them inhabit the Indo-Pacific region. However, at least one of them is found in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

One such species, the flying gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans), live throughout Mexican waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They are discovered in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

On the other hand, the Purple (or Oriental) flying gurnard (Dactyloptena orientalis) ranges from East Africa to Polynesia. They can be found in Australia’s northern half, from Western Australia to southern New South Wales.

These demersal fish occupy habitats such as mud, sands, or rocky areas within sandy regions, at depths of up to 100 meters.



Blue Button Jellyfish Facts: They Are Not Jellyfish

3. They don’t fly, they walk

These fish, despite their name and their expansive “wings,” are incapable of flying or even gliding in the air. Nevertheless, they are able to glide across the water’s surface for a brief time by using their broad pectoral fins.

Their excessively expanded pectoral fins serve primarily as a defense mechanism. These fins are usually tucked against the fish’s body. When threatened, the species spread their vivid blue-edged fins outwards, startling and confusing potential predators. his characteristic also makes the fish appear much larger than their real size.

Before swimming away at high speed, they frequently retract their pectoral fins.

We all know that these flying gurnard fish don’t fly. But the funny thing about these fish is that they like to walk on the seabed. To do this, they move their pectoral fins and pelvic pectoral fin rays alternately.

AN purple flying gurnard

In addition, flying gurnards are capable of producing growling sounds through their swim bladder, which has two lobes and a “drumming muscle”. Some scientists speculate that they use these sounds to communicate with each other.

These creatures are quite bold. Some have been observed to unexpectedly turn and hit divers with their bony armor.

Fun fact:
The dieting Gurnard is distantly related to the venomous scorpionfish. However, unlike its deadly cousin, this species is not venomous, poisonous, or dangerous.

4. They search for food with their fins

The flying gurnard’s main diet comprises shrimps, crabs, other small crustaceans, black worms, bivalves like clams, and small bottom-dwelling fish.

They use “hand” to look for food

Unlike other fish, gurnard fish don’t swim to look for prey. They walk along the seafloor instead. Their pectoral fins have adapted into two hand-like structures, which they use to probe and explore the ocean bottom, washing away sand, and pushing aside seaweed and stones to find any possible food.

These helmet gurnards often attract the attention of two opportunistic feeders, the coney and the yellow jack. These algae-eating fish benefit from the gurnard’s habit of stirring up algae tufts while foraging for food.

5. Reproduction

Due to the challenges in studying their behavior, we don’t have enough information about their mating behavior. However, it is understood that they produce non-adhesive eggs which are discharged into the waters.

Spotwing flying gunard/Cre: Wiki

On extremely rare occasions, young flying gurnards have been observed swimming freely in the upper portions of the substrate, where they likely feed on plankton. Based on observations, it is believed that they conceal themselves during daylight hours and hunt at night.

6. Conservation status

According to the IUCN, the flying gurnard is deemed to be of Least Concern currently. The sea creatures have stable and widely dispersed populations. They are not commercially fished, except in Senegal, where they are marketed under the name “rooster”.



Animal Facts 276

We are passionate animal enthusiasts with over a decade of experience studying animals. With a degree in zoology and conservation biology, we've contributed to various research and conservation projects. We're excited to bring you engaging content that highlights the wonders of the animal kingdom. We aim to inspire others to appreciate and protect wildlife through informative content grounded in expertise and passion. Join us as we delve into the captivating world of animals and discover the incredible stories they have to tell.

Leave a Comment