I’m not really sure how I picked this fish out — whether I was drawn towards it because of the strange name (gurnard just sounds really funny) or because of the actual traits of the fish, I don’t remember. But it was flagged on my list of animals to blog about, so here we go.

Flying gurnards belong to the family Dactylopteridae, which contains two genera and seven species. They are also known as helmet gurnards, as they can’t actually fly (or glide) like true flying fish can. They are found mostly in the Indo-Pacific, though one species lives in the warmer areas of the Atlantic. Adult flying gurnards hang out at the bottom of the ocean, often ‘walking’ along the sea floor with their pelvic fins.

A flying gurnard with its ‘wings’ folded in.
Image by Barry Peters from Greer, SC, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Flying gurnards are quite beautiful fish. Their most notable characteristic is their greatly enlarged pectoral fins, which can be spread out to look like wing (hence the ‘flying’ part of their name). They use these great and often brightly coloured fins to escape from predators — the wings let the fish move quickly, as well as making gurnards look bigger than they actually are. The heads of flying gurnards are covered with hard, armour-like scales (hence the ‘helmet’ alternative name).

See how pretty they are when they have their fins spread out?
Image by Beckmannjan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These fish hunt bottom-dwelling crustaceans on the sea floor, walking along the bottom until they encounter some tasty meal. Apparently gurnards have a well-developed swim bladder, which has a muscle attached to it that may be able to drum against the bladder, creating sounds. To what purpose these sounds may be used, I do not know.

In fact, it seems that not a whole lot is known about flying gurnards. Unfortunately it appears that these fish aren’t valuable enough, interesting enough, or endangered enough to attract research. It’s a real shame, because what little we know about them is pretty neat.

Cover image by Sven Riewe, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit