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Facts about Stingray Fish (Sea Rays)

[Phylum: Chordata] [Class: Chondrichthyes] [Superorder: Batoidea] [Order: Myliobatiformes]

By and large, most of the eight known flat-bodied families of sea rays of the order Myliobatiformes possess superb camouflage... but there's a sting in the tail.

This section contains facts and information about stingray fish (also called 'flat sharks'), such as where these large venomous rays live, what they eat, and how they reproduce.

Stingray Species: Habitats and Distribution

Most marine ray fishes are somewhat pancake shaped bottom-dwellers with broad fins.

In other words, they thrive in benthic zones of tropical and subtropical ecosystems.

Keep in mind...

There are at least 220 stingray species and they're all chondrichthyans (cartilaginous fishes) that are also related to sharks.

In general, sea rays are highly adaptable and they live in cosmopolitan distribution. As a result, some species will prefer temperate, brackish environments. Whereas, others can only survive in freshwater systems, such as the river stingray and a few of the Dasyatidae (called whiptail stingrays or stingarees).

Stingray Behaviour and Characteristics

It is true to say that stingrays do not have the same appearance as most marine vertebrates. But, despite having a wide flat body - stingrays are fish in the phylum of shark.

Plus, being a cartilaginous species means they do not have skeletal bones. Instead, cartilage material (like the one inside a human nose) supports the disk shape of their body. Thus, they are Rajiformes in the superorder Batoidea (ray fish).

Moving on...

The stingray has evolved into a master of disguise and concealment in sand and muddy seabeds. In the main, it is the colours and patterns depicted on their dorsal surface that enhances their natural camouflage techniques.

So, how do stingrays swim? Actually, they have more than one method of movement through the water. Some use an "undulating" motion to propel themselves.

Whereas, many of the other stingray species tend to flap their winglike fins to "fly" and "glide" (e.g. like big birds) near to coral reef formations at the bottom of the ocean.

Fun Fact: Some species of stingrays can adjust their body colouring to match their surroundings within a few days of settling at a new habitat.

What Do Stingrays Eat in their Habitat?

The feeding strategies used by different marine rays varies according to the species. Some use their strong jaws to crush critters with hard shells. Others use cephalic lobes to filter feed on planktonic organisms.

Most of the benthic stingrays (residing on or near the sea floor) are typical ambush hunters, using the sit-and-wait strategy. Once a prey swims by - and gets close enough - they will capture it by stealth and suction (like many of the shark species).

This is the important part:

The electrical sensors and the mouth of a stingray are underneath its body. It presses its pectoral fins against the substrate (usually sandy), to lift up its head. The suction generated is sufficient to pull small prey underneath its body for swallowing.

Plus, the carnivore ray species with strong jaw teeth can crush most of the marine mollusks that have tough outer shells, such as:

Pro Tip: Often, manta rays will splay their cephalic fins wide apart to forage on the ocean floor. But, filter feeding can clog up the gills, forcing them to cough up a dark red faecal matter - usually above sergeant major fish and a harem of wrasse fish waiting patiently at a cleaning station.

Stingray Reproduction

For the most part, each female stingray will only give birth one time per year. Even so, they can have up to six (6) live young each time (although litters of two to five are more common).

As the baby stingray grows and develops inside its mother, it will be large enough to resemble a miniature version of an adult when it is actually born into the water column. From then on, the mother leaves the young stingray to fend for itself.

Threats and Predators

The venomous tail spines of some species, especially the bluespotted ribbontail ray, can cause severe injuries for humans. Another section contains more information about fish spine injury and first aid treatment.

Despite being a highly intelligent sea creature, the threats to the survival of most sea rays are plentiful. Some of the most serious activities threatening them, include:

In addition, large sharks, killer whales (orcas), and even oceanic dolphins (Pseudorca crassidens) will eat some of the ray species.

Note: The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the conservation status of most stingrays as being Vulnerable (VU) with some listed as Endangered (EN).

Related Information and Help Guides

Note: The short video [6:11 seconds] presented by 'BBC Earth' contains rare footage of a stingray fish ambushing an army of crabs.

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