top of page

63. A foraging Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans)


A foraging Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans).

This demersal (= living on or near the bottom) fish, which is also known as the Helmet Gurnard, is searching for small crabs, his favourite food, amongst the weeds and algae on a sandy bottom of the Caribbean Sea. Also small fish, worms and bivalves are on this beautiful bottom dweller’s menu.

To find its food the Flying Gurnard uses the first lobe of its modified pectoral fins. This lobe contains six rays and is separated from the rest of its modified pectoral fins which are folded against its body. The fish turns rocks and debris to expose prey. With his adapted pelvic fins the Flying Gurnard walks over the substrate. To cover small distances this fish swim with a serpent like movement, but when spooked it will spread the other or posterior section of its huge flamboyant wing-like pectoral fins and glides away to safety. By doing so the fish more than triples its appearance and pretends to much bigger at it actually is in an attempt to scare away predators. Although the Flying Gurnard never flies it is still these big blue-edged pectoral fins is what gives this fish its name.

The flying Gurnard can make grunt-like sounds with its jaws and through its swim bladder. These sounds are more than likely used to communicate with other individuals and to scare away potential predators.

Although armed with many long spines on its fins, the Flying Gurnard does not possess any venomous glands and is therefor not considered as a venomous fish.

The Flying Gurnard is an Atlantic species. It prefers the tropical waters of the Caribbean but is also found in the temperate waters of this ocean. The Flying Gurnard that inhabits the Indian and Pacific Ocean is a smaller and complete different species; Dactyloptena orientalis or the Oriental Flying Gurnard. This Oriental Flying Gurnard resembles its Atlantic cousin regarding habitat and behaviour and but belongs to different genus; Dactyloptena, where the Atlantic one belongs to the Dactylopterus and is the only member inside this genus.

Beside these two species there are other fish that possess similar wing-like pectoral fins. The Gurnard Lionfish (Parapterois hetururus), the Shorten Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus) and the Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra) all have enormous wing-like pectoral fins.


This scene was filmed in Saba (Netherlands Antilles). In order to film this behaviour from close by I positioned the camera on the sandy bottom and filmed horizontally to get a bit of blue in the background. It was sheer luck that the individual in this video suddenly turned in front of the camera, a gesture that increased the quality of this underwater footage.

In post processing I added a bit of contrast and boosted the light blue spots on the Gurnard’s back and head. And as I do in almost all of my underwater videos, I added matching sounds to increase the veracity of the fish’s movements and search for food through the scrub of the sandy bottom.

Filming location:

This short underwater videoclip has been filmed in Saba, Netherland Antilles 🇳🇱

Join us on a journey of discovery and entertainment as we explore fascinating marine wildlife topics and explore the many exciting underwater adventures on our YouTube channel and our Facebook page!

Unlock the power of marine wildlife videography and unleash your inner filmmaker with our online Marine Wildlife Videography course!


bottom of page