The open ocean is a vast, wet desert. On the surface, not many creatures roam, since there is no shelter from predators, and there is little food available. However, some animals are perfectly adapted to life on the open sea. Flying fish are one of these animals. Unlike other small fish that live near the surface and are easy prey, flying fish have modified fins that allow them to glide across the surface of the ocean.
Do flying fish fly?
Flying fish can leap out of the water, but they can’t actually fly.
True flight requires an animal to use muscle power to rise above the ground. Only a few types of animals, primarily birds, bats and insects, have mastered this skill.
However, many other animals – including flying fish – have learned to glide. Gliding is different from flying, as it relies on an animal’s forward momentum, rather than powered wings, to keep it in the air. When a flying fish decides to take off, it races toward the surface, extends its wings, and thrashes its tail rapidly. In the process, the fish reach very high speeds. Once they leave the water, they are able to glide thanks to their outstretched wings.
But flying fish are not capable of rising into the air in the same way that bats, birds and bugs can. In fact, it would make more sense to call them “gliding fish,” rather than flying fish.
Why Do Flying Fish Leap Out of the Water?
Flying fish glide out of the water to escape predators.
Fish don’t evolve wing-like fins and gliding habits for fun. They’ve evolved these traits and behaviors to help them survive. Specifically, wings have evolved to help flying fish escape predators.
Most flying fish species live in open water habitats. Out it the open ocean, there aren’t many places for fish to hide from predatory fish. All that most species can do is to form large schools and swim away as fast as they can. The fleeing fish usually end up swimming just below the surface of the water. Unfortunately, predators can usually catch them easily when traveling beneath the surface.
But flying fish have a trick up their sleeve. They can escape predators by simply leaping out of the water and gliding to safety. It must be very surprising to predators to watch the fish they’re chasing leap out of the water and disappear.
What Species Eat Flying Fish?
A variety of open-water predators hunt flying fish.
A variety of predators living in the open ocean eat flying fish. Some of the most important include mackerel, swordfish, sailfish and marlins. Squid may also feed upon flying fish from time to time, as will small shark species.
These fast and agile predators are all very well-suited for catching flying fish – at least until the flying fish leave the water. However, it is important to note that they aren’t specifically targeting flying fish. Instead, they simply try to catch whatever small fish they can find lurking near the surface.
Several ocean-going bird species also consume flying fish. This includes everything from gulls and pelicans to frigate birds and petrels. Humans also eat flying fish in some portions of the world. But humans obviously use boats and nets to catch them.
How Far Can Flying Fish Glide?
Flying fish can glide incredible distances over the surface.
Even though they can’t technically fly, flying fish can certainly cross vast distances when they leap from the water. Typical flights are usually about 150 feet or so and last about 20 seconds. However, flying fish occasionally travel much farther through the air. Some have even been observed gliding nearly 10 times this distance across the surface. During these long flights, the fish may remain in the air for more than 40 seconds.
Flying fish are only able to glide for such distances by traveling very fast. Remember, they cannot technically fly; they can only glide across the surface. But by swimming at very high speeds, they can propel themselves over the surface for great distances. In some cases, flying fish have been observed reaching about 40 miles an hour when gliding through the air.
Most flying fish stick pretty close to the surface of the water when gliding. After all, they are largely safe from predators once they exit the water.
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Video resource: WATOP