When you see a fish like this, with an extraordinary wing span, your mind can’t help but go a little nuts imagining what a fish would need wings for, but the answer is actually much less terrifying than you probably think. It is true that the wings are there to intimidate potential predators, but the flying gurnard is as flightless as a penguin, despite having what seems to be the appropriate parts to do so. Even the scientific name of the flying gurnard family, Dactylopteridae, conjures up images of a flying creature (pterodactyl, anyone?), but the oddly-named flying gurnard rarely leaves the ocean floor of the shallow waters it inhabits. Its pseudonym is helmet gurnard, which makes even less sense in our opinion, but we don’t discover marine creatures often enough to get to name them, so helmet or flying gurnard it is!
These fish like to hang out in the sandy substrate of the Indo-Pacific, with one known species native to the Atlantic. They swim just above the seafloor, foraging for food in the sand. Some flying gurnards will use their closed wing as an appendage on which to move around on the seafloor, making it seem like the fish is “walking.” The wings of the flying gurnard are patterned, the underside even more vividly as a method of defense against potential predators — when the fish is threatened, it quickly spreads its wings, startling the predator away. Its body is protected by dense scales, making it a rather unsavory catch for predators anyway. Check out this video of a moment in the life of the flying gurnard.
Have you ever seen one of these crazy little fish?
Image via Elias Levy