The Oriental flying gurnard Dactyloptena orientalis is also known as the Purple Flying Gurnard or the Common Helmet Gurnard. With their large pectoral fins they are an unusual sight to see. Their name originates from the French word “gurnard” which means to grunt. When captured they make grunting noises.
The Oriental flying gurnard is a box like fish covered in heavy armor with extra large pectoral fins. The head is large and the body tapers down to a thin point on the caudal fin. The overall color is light brown with reddish brown spots on it with a light blueish tint in places. The pelvic fins appear a purple color underwater but when well lit this changes to a light blue and yellow striped color.
The eyes are ringed in red. The dorsal fin is narrow and often protrudes upwards. When swimming it is held back against the body. When seen at night the entire body has more of a blueish tint than during the day but if kept in the lights this tint disappears quickly. The image below was taken at night with strobes and the blue tint can be seen. They grow up to 40 cm in length but most specimens sighted are more in the 30 cm range.
IN THE WILD
The Oriental flying gurnard usually has its pectoral fins close to the body as seen in the image above. They use their fins to “walk” across the bottom and also to scratch in the sand for tunicates and small crustaceans. They are opportunistic feeders and as can be seen in the video below will feed on small fishes. Their mouth is large and the prey is swallowed whole. Despite their looks they are surprisingly well camouflaged. When threatened they spread their wings and swim off. They are slow moving fishes. With their large pectoral fins spread out they are a stunning sight to see moving across the reef.
Oriental flying gurnard are found across the tropical Indo Pacific area.Their camouflage works best against a sandy bottom and as a result they are mainly seen on sandy bottoms or sandy areas within a reef. On occasion they may be sighted on rubble reefs interspersed with sand. They have been sighted between 4 and 30 meters in Tanzania but reportedly have been seen as deep as 100 meters. Because of their camouflage one usually only sights them when they move.
This fish is a predatory carnivore and its diet consists of small fishes, tunicates and crustaceans. They have been observed digging out prey from the sand with their pectoral fins.
As a consequence of their size Oriental flying gurnards are not commonly kept in aquariums. Some public aquariums may keep them as well as specialist collectors. Because of their size they would require a very large aquarium.
ORIENTAL FLYING GURNARD CLASSIFICATION