Let’s face it, stingrays are well-known for their powerful tails that have the ability and green light to kill. However, they do that exclusively when they’re under attack. If they aren’t, they’re just seen underwater, lounging around in the sand and in the shallow, temperate water. For the most part, in fact, they’re very gentle, tender creatures—nothing scuba divers and snorkelers should be afraid of.
Unlike many fish, stingrays are instantly recognizable together with their flat, almost pancake-like, bodies that glide through underwater. Around the world, there are surprisingly around 200 species of stingrays in the ocean, rivers, and lakes. With that out of the way, here’s everything else you need to know about our friendly flat shark!
Description and Appearance
Though they may look completely unrelated except for the fact that they live underwater, sharks and stingrays actually belong to the same class of animals: the elasmobranchs. They are characterized by their skeletons made of cartilage—the same protein from the ears of humans.
Stingrays are dorsoventrally flattened—meaning they’re short and wide, like a cartoon flatted by a hammer. This body shape is advantageous to them and their bottom-dwelling lifestyle and sitting on the very bottom of the ocean to either rest or camouflage themselves from predators. Its eyes are found on top of its body and its mouth is found on the button.
The most distinguishable part of its body, of course, is its tail with a serrated, toxin-filled barb. Though deadly, stingrays only use their tails when they are threatened or under attack—injuring potential predators.
As for their sizes, stingrays can be as small as a common plate to as big as a huge 16.5 feet! Freshwater stingrays, on the other hand, are known to weigh up to 1,300 lb. Whether it’s a 5-meter long stingray or an almost 600kg one, that’s an extremely one-of-a-kind sight, if I do say so myself. The largest stingray was found in Southeast Asia.
Those numbers aren’t huggable at all, are they? Not that people would voluntarily hug stingrays out of nowhere, that is. But what if I told you it’s possible? Thanks to Gage Beasley and their Stingray Soft Stuffed Plush Toy, you can hug one all you want! You can even embrace it until you fall asleep. Contrary to almost 17 feet of pure cartilage, Gage Beasley has created 50 cm of full-on plush and softness!
Gage Beastley’s Stingray Soft Stuffed Plush Toy
Stingrays are humble feeders—eating only bottom-dwelling prey such as shrimp, worms, and clams. Other species of stingrays also eat insects. Interestingly, stingrays sort of have super powers—being able to generate a bioelectric field (electrical signature) as their prey comes closer. Just like the shark species, stingrays also boast an organ called ampullae of Lorenzini to detect bioelectric fields of other animals surrounding them.
Once they’ve accurately located their prey, they lift off the floor and form a sort of tent shape—causing a sucking effect and pulling the prey towards the mouth and their teeth to break the shells or instantly devour their victims.
As it is with most aquatic creatures, the stingray’s reproductive strategy varies from species to species. Some are fond of large gatherings while some are more opportunistic and mate with whomever. All stingrays are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs are developed inside their bodies until they hatch, and then give birth to live young. Some stingray species can store sperm for a period of time, making it possible to give birth without a male stingray.
The mating season only lasts for a few months. Female stingrays have long gestation periods, ranging from a whole six months to two years. Once a year, they give birth to at least two live young—but it can easily give birth to six, too.
Newborn stingrays are already fully functional when they come out, even if they’re only the size of a human palm. They typically have short lifespans—only reaching 6 to 8 years. Their freshwater counterparts in Southeast Asia, however, have been known to live three times longer.
Distribution and Conservation Status
Most, if not all, stingrays are benthic fishes, meaning they’d rather live on the bottom of the body of water. If not, at least near the bottom. Though a few species are found openly in the ocean, most stingrays opt to hunt and search for their next meals at the bottom. Some species of stingrays live exclusively in freshwater environments such as rivers while some prefer saltwater. They can even be found in muddy riverbeds and near coral reefs.
Like most animals, their distribution depends on their species. Some live in almost every ocean known to man, while some live in specialized habitats or small regions. Either way, there are stingrays in almost all forms of waters across the world.
According to the International Union for Conservations of Nature in 2014, already a quarter of the planet’s stingrays and sharks are faced with the risk of extinction—more on stingrays than sharks, though. According to the study, their close extinction can be attributed to overfishing. Commercially, stingrays aren’t the targets of fishers, but they do get caught as bycatch (unintentional) because of trawling nets that can occupy the whole surface to the seafloor.
Some species, on the other hand, face overharvesting for aquariums. As for freshwater stingrays, their main enemies here are the pollution from humans. Some species are suffering from habitat loss because of business developments, too. In Florida, it was known that stingrays prefer using mangrove forests as birthing grounds because it offered protection for their young. However, Florida has already lost its mangrove habitat—making it impossible to use as shelter and leaving the young vulnerable.
Though pretty much a stranger to the rest of the society besides aquatic researchers, stingrays are actually great sea creatures. Some only know stingrays because of their tail and sheer animosity when threatened, but very few people know of their timid, more calming features. Primarily composed of cartilage, these creatures are related to sharks under the elasmobranchs family.
They are most notably known for their oddly-shaped, flattened bodies and long tails. Currently, there are eight different families of stingrays including the sixgill, deepwater, stingarees, round rays, whiptail, river, butterfly, and eagle rays. Unfortunately, they face the extermination of their species because of overfishing, pollution, and overharvesting. They’re not the cutest of animals, but they do serve their purpose under the deep blue oceans, rivers, saltwater, and almost all bodies of water. These flat sharks gracefully glide through the waters, and hopefully out of the brink of extinction as well.