Sunday 25 November 2012

Flying Gurnard

Image: laszlo-photo via Flickr
The word "gurnard" comes from the Old French for "grunt". So I guess a Flying Gurnard is some sort of high level ventriloquism skill?

Image: Elias Levy
A fish?

Image: Beckmannjan
Maybe a fish with high level ventriloquism skills?

Image: Randall, J.E.
Dactyloptena macracantha
Alas, no. They're fish, but they don't swim around with little fish dummies and drink a glass of water while reciting the alphabet. They're fish. If they did that, reciting the alphabet would be a lot more impressive than drinking a glass of water. And what would be really amazing is if they could recite the alphabet with no water at all. Which, strangely enough, is something I can do very easily and no-one would be impressed at all.

What a world...

Image: prilfish via Flickr
Oriental Flying Gurnard, Dactyloptena orientalis
Like most of the others, it reaches about 40 cm (16 in) long and lives in the Indo-Pacific
Anyway... Flying Gurnards! They are seven species in the family Dactylopteridae. They're related to the ordinary Gurnards, or Sea Robins, but not as closely as the name suggests. Like the Sea Robins, they get the name "Gurnard" from the special muscle that thumps their swim bladder to produce an annoyed grunting sound if they're removed from the water. That's... almost impressive...

Image: dachalan via Flickr
Giant pectoral fin
It's not for flying
The Flying bit comes from the huge, beautifully marked pectoral fins which... don't actually let them fly. They don't even glide! I'm so sorry, but Flying Gurnards aren't Gurnards that fly. Don't worry. Hold my hand, we'll get through this together.

In reality, it seems those massive and magnificent fins are for scaring predators away. They're not even required for swimming, but I guess they're big and colourful enough to make predators think that they really don't know who they're messing with.

Image: mentalblock_DMD via Flickr
Dactylopterus volitans
It isn't usually a problem when a fish doesn't fly. We've grown so accustomed to it over the years that by now we all ensure that none of our best laid plans rely on a fish soaring through the air, glistening in the sunlight, its tail laden with messages from our spies behind enemy lines. With that in mind, it's no wonder that some people would like to rename the Flying Gurnard the Helmet Gurnard! No wonder. No wonder, at all...

Image: mentalblock_DMD via Flickr
Helmet Gurnards don't wear tiny helmets, but they don't need to because of their incredibly tough, bony skull. Knuckle-head, basically.

Image: Vishal Bhave via Flickr
Close-up of scales
Even their scales are like scutes, being all pointy and prickly.

Image: mentalblock_DMD via Flickr
Flying Gurnard top, two other fish below
And when they pack away those impressive fins, Flying Gurnards aren't too bad at disappearing into the background.

Image: Simone Carletti via Flickr
All things considered, Flying Gurnards don't seem to be built so much for flight as for staying right where they are. And who needs to fly when you can walk?

Image: mentalblock_DMD via Flickr
Just under the gigantic pectoral fins are a small pair of pelvic fins which Flying Gurnards use to walk around on the sea floor. But not only do they have legs, they also have hands...

Those pectoral fins are so gigantic that Flying Gurnards can afford to keep a little bit of them aside for purposes other than not flying. Next to their head are two lobes for sweeping away sediment to uncover bottom dwelling crustaceans and small fish. They're like tiny brooms! And we finally get a name that makes sense, since the family name Dactylopteridae means "finger fin".

Image: mentalblock_DMD via Flickr
Hands and feet! And wings! That's like, every single limb possible!
The question remains, though: how can a fish with little hands and feet and wings look so cute? Rather than the abhorrent, limb-hoarding transgressors they truly are?


  1. beautiful wings they have - like underwater moths.

  2. Yes! Gorgeous, but not garish like those darn butterflies.

  3. Just caught a couple the other day. Absolutely beautiful. Let them go of course.

  4. Lucky you for finding them! And lucky them that you were nice enough to free them!

  5. how long ago did this post exist?????