- Published: 03 February 2010
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Joan Ridington, age 12, of Vancouver, B. C.p for her question:
How do flying fish breathe in the air?
This dainty creature is the fairy of the fish world. Most of his life is spent like a normal fish, swimming' feeding and breathing under water. But once in a while he spreads his gauzy, butterfly‑shaped wings and takes off for a glide through the air. The aerial‑ trip usually lasts about three seconds and covers some fifty yards. But an expert flying fish cen glide a quarter of a mile and stay in the air half a minute.
If you love to swim ‑ and who doesn't? ‑ you know the thrill of a dive under water. You also know what you have to do about your breathing under water. For you this is impossible. You have lungs which can breathe oxygen only from the air. Fish are fitted with gills which can breathe oxygen only from the water. It is just as impossible for a fish to breathe air as for you to breathe water. And the flying fish is a true .fish with a pair of gills for breathing water and no lungs at all.
Being a sensible fellow, the flying fish does not even try to breathe while he is gliding through the air. No more would you try to take a breath while under water. An expert diver can hold his breath for several minutes under water. You can hold your breath for three seconds with no trouble at all. With practice, you can soon learn to stay under water for half a minute or more. So it is no trick for the flying fish to do his aerial stunts without breathing. While in the air, his rounded gill covers are closed to that the air cannot dry the moisture of the inner gills.
The underwater world is strange and fascinating to us. We can see and hear down there, but things look different and sound different from what they do in the air. The world above the water must seem just as strange and fascinating to a flying fish. He too can see and hear. He is attracted by lights and this sometimes gets him into trouble. He may glide clear through the lighted window of a ship's porthole. For the little fellow glides up to look at the airy world day or night.
There are some 60 of the true fly fishes, ranging in size from a few inches to a inches to a foot and half. Some have two wings but most have four. The wings, of course, are really wide =and gauzy side fins. The two‑winged cousins prefer life in the deep oceans and perform only for passing ships.
The four‑winged flying fishes enjoy life off shore in warm or tropical waters. Since we are most likely to watch the four‑winged variety perform, let's see how theatrical stunt is done.
The flying fish gets ready for flight while still underwater. He gets up speed by swishing his powerful tail. His four wings ,are now folded close to his aides. He is near the surface and. soon his little nose and head pierce the water. He now butterflies his front wings. The powerful tail is still in the water and he swishes it from side to side to get still more speed. For about 100 yards, he taxis into the wind. Then he spreads his back wings and glides clear into the air. He travels at about 35 miles an hour, he can bank and manuever, but he cannot flap his wings. And he must hold his breath until he returns to the water.