Common name: Flyingfishes


Flyingfishes inhabit surface waters of all three oceans, with most species found in the tropics. They have greatly enlarged pectoral fins used for gliding above the water. Some species also have enlarged pelvic fins and all have the lower lobe of the caudal fin lengthened, enabling them to clear the water. Many juveniles have ribbon-like whiskers.

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Dianne J. Bray, Flyingfishes, EXOCOETIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 23 Jul 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

More than 60 species in seven genera are recognised in the family Exocoetidae. Twenty-six species in five genera have been recorded from Australian waters. The flyingfishes have not been revised recently and the Australian species are not well known. Parin (1961a) reviewed species and distributions in the Indo-Pacific, Kovalevskaya (1980) reviewed the larvae and juveniles of 13 Indo-Pacific species and Parin (1996) treated some species known from Australia. Parin & Shakhovskoy (2000) reviewed Exocoetus. Aizawa (2002) recognised Danichthys, which is usually considered a subgenus of Hirundichthys, as a distinct genus and regarded Cheilopogon as a junior synonym of Cypselurus. The genus Oxyporhamphus, usually placed in the family Hemiramphidae (Collette et al. 1984; Collette 1999), was placed in the Exocoetidae by Dasilao et al. (1997), but was returned to the Hemiramphidae by Lovejoy et al. (2004). Relationships are discussed by Parin (1961b), Dasilao & Sasaki (1998) and Lovejoy et al. (2004). The classification followed here is based on that of Parin (1996, 1999).

Family Distribution

Although most live in the open ocean far from land, some often occur around islands and coastal regions. Juveniles of this group often shelter under floating algae and debris.

Family Description

Family Size

Maximum length is 45 cm, but most species are smaller.

Family Colour

Flying fishes have a typical counter-shading colour pattern to avoid being seen by predators and prey. They are dark bluish-green on top and light below. Although most species have clear or plainly pigmented pectoral fins, with a darker oblique transverse band, some have many small dark spots on a lighter background.

Family Feeding

Flying fishes feed on zooplankton.

Family Reproduction

lay large eggs with sticky filaments onto floating objects such as algae and flotsam.

Family Remarks

When startled, flyingfishes leap from the water and can glide for up to 300 metres on their outstretched wing-like pectoral fins (and pelvic fins in some species), often beating the lower caudal fin lobe in the water to extend the flight. While swimming, the pectoral and pelvic fins are held flat against the body.


Dianne J. Bray


Aizawa, M. 2002. Families Hemiramphidae, Exocoetidae, Belonidae, Scomberesocidae. pp. 1516-1518 in Nakabo, T. (ed.). Fishes of Japan with Pictorial Keys to the Species, English edition. Tokyo : Toikai University Press pp. 867-1749

Belyanina, T.N. 1993. Early stages of development of flying fishes (fam. Exocoetidae) of the eastern coast of Australia. Tr. Inst. Okeanol. Ross. Akad. Nauk 128: 108–146. [In Russian]

Collette, B.B. 1999. Family Hemiramphidae. pp. 2180-2196 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 4 2069-2790 pp.

Collette, B.B., McGowen, G.E., Parin, N.V. & Mito, S. 1984. Beloniformes: development and relationships. 335-354 figs 172-185 in Moser, H.G. et al. (eds). Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Special Publication 1: 1-760

Dasilao, J.C. Jr. & K. Sasaki. 1996. Phylogeny of the flying fish family Exocoetidae (Teleostei, Beloniformes). Ichthyological Research 45(4): 347–353.

Dasilao, J.C., Sasaki, K. & Okamura, O. 1997. The hemiramphid, Oxyporhamphus, is a flying fish (Exocoetidae). Ichthyological Research 44(2): 101-107

Kovalevskaya, N.V. 1980. Reproduction, development and distribution patterns of larvae and juveniles of the oceanic flying fishes in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Trudy Instituta Okeanologii. Akademiya Nauk SSSR. Moskva 97: 212-275 figs 1-26 [in Russian]

Lovejoy, N.R., Iranpour, H. & Collette, B.B. 2004. Phylogeny and jaw ontogeny of beloniform fishes. Integrative & Comparative Biology 44: 366-377.

Nelson, J.S. 2006. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey, 601 p.

Parin, N.V. 1961. Contribution to the knowledge of the flyingfish fauna (Exocoetidae) of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Trudy Instituta Okeanologii. Akademiya Nauk SSSR. Moskva 42: 40-91 figs 1-19 [in Russian; English transl. U.S. Bur. Comm. Fish. Ichthyol. Lab. Transl. Vol. 27]

Parin, N.V. 1961. The bases for the classification of the flyingfishes (families Oxyporhamphidae and Exocoetidae). Trudy Instituta Okeanologii. Akademiya Nauk SSSR. Moskva 43: 92-183 figs 1-45 [in Russian; English transl. U.S. Bur. Comm. Fish. Ichthyol. Lab. Transl. Vol. 67]

Parin, N.V. 1999. Exocoetidae. Flyingfishes, pp. 2162-2179. In Carpenter, K.E. & V.H. Niem. FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes. The living marine resources of the Western Central Pacific. Vol. 4. Bony Fishes. Part 2. Mugilidae to Carangidae. FAO, Rome.

Parin, N.V. & Shakhovskoy, I.B. 2000. A review of the flying fish genus Exocoetus (Exocoetidae) with descriptions of two new species from the southern Pacific Ocean. Journal of Ichthyology 40(Suppl. 1): 31-63.

Shakhovskoy, I.B. & N.V. Parin. 2010. A comparative description and distribution of the flying fishes — Cypselurus poecilopterus, C. simus, and C. callopterus, sorted out into the species group of spotwing species of the subgenus Poecilocypselurus. Journal of Ichthyology 50(8): 559–579.