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The Amazing World of Flyingfish

The Amazing World of Flyingfish

Steve N. G. Howell
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 64
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  • Book Info
    The Amazing World of Flyingfish
    Book Description:

    If you travel the open ocean anywhere in the tropics, you are very likely to see flyingfish. These beautifully colored "ocean butterflies" shoot out of the water and sail on majestic, winglike pectoral fins to escape from predators such as dolphins, swordfish, and tuna. Some can travel for more than six hundred feet per flight. Yet despite their prevalence in warm ocean waters and their vital role in the tropical food chain, surprisingly little is known about flyingfish-more than 60 species are said to exist, but nobody is sure of the number. This beautifully illustrated book presents flyingfish as you've never seen them before. It features more than 90 stunning color photos by renowned naturalist Steve Howell, as well as a concise and accessible text that explores the natural history of flyingfish, where they can be found, how and why they fly, what colors they are, what they eat and what eats them, and more.

    The ideal gift for fish lovers, seasoned travelers, and armchair naturalists alike, this first-of-its-kind book provides a rare and incomparable look at these spectacular marine creatures.

    Presents flyingfish like you've never seen them beforeFeatures more than 90 stunning color imagesExplores the natural history of flyingfish, where to see them, how they fly, and moreThe ideal gift book for fish lovers, ecotravelers, birders, and armchair naturalists

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5300-7
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-3)

    Many types of marine animals leap out of the water, from dolphins, rays, and whales to sea lions, penguins, and squids, but flyingfish are in a league of their own. Flyingfish make up a specialized group of bony fishes placed by biologists in the family Exocoetidae, and are closely related to a few other fish families, including the needlefish (family Belonidae) and halfbeaks (family Hemiramphidae). Needlefish and halfbeaks, along with some other fish, can leap from the water but are not anatomically equipped to sustain their aerial travel beyond a few feet, even with some tail waggling to give them...

    (pp. 5-5)

    Living only in seas and oceans, not in freshwater, flyingfish can be found around the world in surface waters warmer than about 68º F (20º C), especially the blue waters of equatorial regions and the tropics. Although these oceanic waters contain many species of fish and other animals, they are relatively lifeless overall, the equivalent of deserts on land. There is little plant or animal life to intercept the light passing through them, and thus they look blue, like the sky.

    While it has been suggested that the warm-water environment may be linked to helping cold-blooded fish achieve the speeds...

    (pp. 7-8)

    Scientists are uncertain how many different species of flyingfish are out there, and surely new species remain to be discovered. More than 150 types have been described over the years (juveniles often look so different from adults that they have been described as separate species), but modern fish biologists consider the total to be in the range of 60 to 70 species. There are approximately 32,000 species of fish worldwide, about 18,000 of which occur in the oceans; of these, therefore, fewer than half a percent are flyingfish. Despite being few in terms of species, however, flyingfish are among the...

    (pp. 10-11)

    Some flyingfish reach 20 inches (50 cm) in length and about 30 inches (75 cm) in “wingspan,” but adults of most species are 6–12 inches (15–30 cm) long and have wingspans of 9–18 inches (23–46 cm). Some flyingfish lay sticky eggs on seaweeds (such as the golden Sargasso weeds that characterize the Gulf Stream), palm fronds, pieces of wood, and other floating debris, whereas other species, typically those found farther offshore, lay buoyant eggs that float near the sea surface. Bathed in warm waters, the eggs usually hatch within a week or so, and young flyingfish...

    (pp. 12-17)

    Two obvious and linked questions are: How do flyingfish fly, and do they really fly? Looking down from the bow of a boat into pellucid water, you can sometimes see flyingfish below the surface, twisting, turning, and darting quickly before they shoot abruptly from the water and zip away through the air with remarkable speed and grace. To generate the initial thrust to power flight it appears that a fish bends its body sideways to nearly 90 degrees and then “snaps” back into a straightened shape, as do hunting pikes or barracudas to generate a short-term but powerful thrust. This...

    (pp. 19-24)

    So fish can fly (or at least glide), but why do they? At one time it was suggested that the flight of flyingfish offered a more efficient means of travel, as it does for penguins, dolphins, and sea lions, which leap from the water in “porpoising” mode when they need to travel their fastest. While this explanation may hold for the schools of small bait-fish sometimes seen porpoising (p. 2), studies of physiology do not support this theory for flyingfish. And as anyone watching flyingfish flee from the bow of a ship or boat can attest, flight is certainly used...

    (pp. 27-32)

    The bodies of flyingfish are mostly a generic silvery color, with a dark blue topside and often with a white belly. This countershading helps protect them from predators—when they are seen from above the dark back blends with dark ocean depths, and from below the pale belly blends with light coming from above the surface. Some species may undergo color changes that relate to courtship, when parts of the body flush reddish, but details of these changes are not well known. The wings, however, are a different matter, at least among the fourwing species.

    All two-wing and many four-wing...

    (pp. 34-37)

    A big hurdle to identifying flyingfish in the field, in flight, is that scientific descriptions are usually based on specimens examined in museums, and involve counts and measurements such as fin lengths, the number of rays (bony supports) in a fin and whether or not the rays are divided, the numbers of scales on different parts of the body, and so on. For example, an entry from a formal key to flyingfish reads: “Anal-fin rays 10 to 12; longest dorsal-fin rays scarcely reaching origin of upper caudal-fin lobe; predorsal scales 16 to 21” (Parin 1999). While useful for scientists with...