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You Won’t Believe These Flyingfish!

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a…fish with wings! Steve N.G. Howell captures these incredible creatures in his book The Amazing World of Flyingfish.

Steve N. G. Howell

Yes, these critters boast both fins and wings.

Their wings are stiff—which is why early 20th century engineers studied them when designing airplanes. (Birds’ wings, which flap, were a less useful model.)  To swim, the fish tuck their wings against their sides. 

Steve N. G. Howell

Flyingfish (one word, by the way) have ancestors dating back to the Middle Triassic period, some 240 million years ago.

Today they are slender and streamlined, with an unevenly forked tail. They also have hardened lower jaws, which protect their mouths when they hit water at high speeds.

Steve N. G. Howell

These beautiful creatures live only in seas and oceans, not freshwater.

The flyingfish is the national animal of Barbados. Unfortunately for the fish, it’s also the national dish, often ending up steamed and served with gravy.

Steve N. G. Howell

Scientists believe there are 60 to 70 species of flyingfish, out of about 32,000 fish species worldwide.

The biggest flyingfish are about 20 inches long, with a wingspan of about 30 inches, but most are smaller.

Steve N. G. Howell

When it wants to fly, the swimming fish bends its body nearly 90 degrees in the water.

It thrusts into the air like a torpedo and then snaps back into a straightened shape.

Steve N. G. Howell

Why fly? It’s not for the view.

Scientists believe the fish do it to make a quick getaway from predators.

Steve N. G. Howell

More about The Amazing World of Flying Fish

Photographer and author Steve N.G. Howell, who chronicles these “ocean butterflies,” has spent almost four years traveling on the world’s oceans.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest