Flyingfish are members of the Exocoetidae family and are closely related to halfbeaks, balao, and needlefish. The flyingfish has normal-length jaws, unlike these other species; the fins are soft rayed and spineless; and the lateral line is extremely low, following the outline of the belly. The dorsal and anal fins are set far back on the body. The pectoral fins of flyingfish are greatly expanded, forming winglike structures. The round eggs are generally equipped with tufts of long filaments that help to anchor the eggs in seaweeds. These fish travel in schools and are abundant in warm seas. They are an important food fish for pelagic species, especially for billfish, and may be used as rigged trolling bait for bluewater fishing. Flyingfish are readily observed in offshore environs when they suddenly burst through the water’s surface and glide for a short distance before reentering the water.
About 22 species are found off the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts of North America. The largest of all North American flyingfish is the California flyingfish (Cypselurus californicus), which may be 11⁄2 feet long. It is found only off the coasts of Southern California and Baja California. It is one of the “four-winged” flyingfish, because the pelvic, as well as the pectoral, fins are large and winglike. The common Atlantic flyingfish (C. heterurus; also C. melanurus), found in warm waters throughout the Atlantic, is two-winged, with a black band extending through the wings. It averages less than 10 inches in length.
Other common species of warm Atlantic and Caribbean waters are the margined flyingfish (C. cyanopterus), the bandwing flyingfish (C. exsiliens), and the short-winged flyingfish (Parexocoetus mesogaster), the latter ranging through all warm seas and noted for shorter wings than found in most species.