Flying gurnards are marine fish belonging to the family Dactylopteridae within the order Scorpaeniformes. The word “gurnard” comes from the French word for “grunt,” which is likely a reference to the flying gurnard’s ability to emit growling sounds through their swim bladder that sound like grunts. They are sometimes referred to as batfish, flying fish, grunt fish, helmet gurnard or sea robins. It’s important to note that flying gurnards as a separate species of fish from their cousins simply referred to as gurnards. Red, tub and grey gurnards also belong to the order Scorpaeniformes, but actually belong to the Triglidae family. Flying gurnards can be distinguished from gurnards by their enormous pectoral fins that look like wings. These fins are divided with a shorter forward portion and the much larger wings on the posterior section. They can’t fly, but their large pectoral fins allow them to glide above the water for short distances. They will also fan out these fins in an effort to scare off predators, and use them to “walk” along the ocean floor and look around in the sand for food. Algae eaters like yellow jack and coney will sometimes follow behind to consume the algae tufts churned up by the flying gurnard.
Flying gurnards can grow as large as 50 cm in length. Their head and eyes are large but their mouth is small, and from the side the head looks similar to a frog. Their body is elongated and tapers towards the tail. Their bodies may either possess a light-hued greenish color or mixed light and dark tan colors with a white underbelly. They also have numerous dark spots all over. They have a single ray appendage, separate from the rest of the fins, located at the nape of the neck. Flying gurnards are covered with tough, prickly scales and have two hook-like spurs located near their gills. These features can sometimes get them snagged in nets by accident. While distant cousins of deadly scorpionfish, they possess no venom.
They are carnivorous with a diet of invertebrates, crustaceans, clams and possibly other small fish. They are bottom dwellers who prefer to inhabit areas of shallower waters with mud, rock or sandy bottoms, but can be found anywhere from 1-100 meters in depth. Flying gurnards live in warm and tropical seas. They can be found in the Pacific Ocean, Eastern and Western Atlantic over by North and South America, within the Caribbean, near the coasts of Africa and Europe like in the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean. While the conservation status of flying gurnards hasn’t been evaluated, they don’t appear to be at risk. The only place that commercially fishes them is Senegal.