1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Flying-fish

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FLYING-FISH, the name given to two different kinds of fish. The one (Dactylopterus) belongs to the gurnard family (Triglidae), and is more properly called flying gurnard; the other (Exocoetus) has been called flying herring, though more nearly allied to the gar-pike than to the herring. Some other fishes with long pectoral fins (Pterois) have been stated to be able to fly, but this has been proved to be incorrect.

Britannica Flying-fish Dactylopterus volitans.png
Fig. 1.Dactylopterus volitans.

The flying gurnards are much less numerous than the Exocoeti with regard to individuals as well as species, there being only three or four species known of the former, whilst more than fifty have been described of the latter, which, besides, are found in numerous shoals of thousands. The Dactylopteri may be readily distinguished by a large bony head armed with spines, hard keeled scales, two dorsal fins, &c. The Exocoeti have thin, deciduous scales, only one dorsal fin, and the ventrals placed far backwards, below the middle of the body; some have long barbels at the chin. In both kinds the pectoral fins are greatly prolonged and enlarged, modified into an organ of flight, and in many species of Exocoetus the ventral fins are similarly enlarged, and evidently assist in the aerial evolutions of these fishes. Flying-fishes are found in the tropical and subtropical seas only, and it is a singular fact that the geographical distribution of the two kinds is nearly identical. Flying-fish are more frequently observed in rough weather and in a disturbed sea than during calms; they dart out of the water when pursued by their enemies or frightened by an approaching vessel, but frequently also without any apparent cause, as is also observed in many other fishes; and they rise without regard to the direction of the wind or waves. The fins are kept quietly distended, without any motion, except an occasional vibration caused by the air whenever the surface of the wing is parallel with the current of the wind. Their flight is rapid, greatly exceeding that of a ship going 10 m. an hour, but gradually decreasing in velocity and not extending beyond a distance of 500 ft. Generally it is longer when the fishes fly against, than with or at an angle to, the wind. Any vertical or horizontal deviation from a straight line is not caused at the will of the fish, but by currents of the air; thus they retain a horizontally straight course when flying with or against the wind, but are carried towards the right or left whenever the direction of the wind is at an angle with that of their flight. However, it sometimes happens that the fish during its flight immerses its caudal fin in the water, and by a stroke of its tail turns towards the right or left. In a calm the line of their flight is always also vertically straight or rather parabolic, like the course of a projectile, but it may become undulated in a rough sea, when they are flying against the course of the waves; they then frequently overtop each wave, being carried over it by the pressure of the disturbed air. Flying-fish often fall on board of vessels, but this never happens during a calm or from the lee side, but during a breeze only and from the weather side. In day time they avoid a ship, flying away from it, but during the night when they are unable to see, they frequently fly against the weather board, where they are caught by the current of the air, and carried upwards to a height of 20 ft. above the surface of the water, whilst under ordinary circumstances they keep close to it. All these observations point clearly to the fact that any deflection from a straight course is due to external circumstances, and not to voluntary action on the part of the fish.

Britannica Flying-fish Exocoetus callopterus.png
Fig. 2.Exocoetus callopterus.

A little Malacopterygian fish about 4 in. long has recently been discovered in West Africa which has the habits of a fresh-water flying-fish. It has been named Pantodon buchholzi. It has very large pectoral fins with a remarkable muscular process attached to the inner ray. It lives in fresh-water lakes and rivers in the Congo region, and has been caught in its flight above the water in a butterfly-net.