Who are the stingrays?
The stingrays are a unique group of fishes often referred to as "flattened sharks" as they are close cousins to sharks. They belong to a group known as the "batoids" and share similarities to the guitarfish, sawfishes, electric rays and skates. If you’re into this sort of thing you have to check out the Chondrichthyes: Tree of Life!
One of the key features of this group is their characteristic "caudal barb", which is located on the tail and is used for defense. The caudal "barb" or "spine" is actually a modified scale known as "dermal denticles" on sharks and rays. The barb is a unique weapon in that it not only can stick its attacker, but also can transmit a venom from the mucus coating on the barb. This can cause intense pain and throbbing – even the toughest surfer dudes have been brought to tears by stingrays.
FACT: The largest groups of round stingrays are found from southern California to the Sea of Cortez; this is likely due to ideal habitat consisting of shallow waters, fine sediment, and gentle surf (Mull et al. , 2008).
FACT: A method applied by aquariums to reduce stingray-related injury is the clipping of the caudal (tail) spine. Stingray spines are like fingernails, in that they lack nerves and grow back after a period of time. Therefore, the spine can easily be clipped without causing pain or injury to the ray (Lowe et al. , 2007).
FACT: Unlike fishes, which lay eggs, stingrays are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young (Lyons and Lowe, 2013).
FACT: Stingrays shed and replace their caudal (tail) spines. For example, the round stingray, Urobatis halleri, and Atlantic stingray, Dasyatis sabina, exhibit yearly caudal spine replacement, with secondary spine growth occurring during the summer through fall (Lowe et al. , 2007).
FACT: Stingrays strictly sting out of defense, never as an offensive maneuver. Therefore, to avoid getting stung by accidentally stepping on a scared stingray at the beach, do the "stingray shuffle". Shuffle your feet as you walk, instead of lifting up your feet. The movement will cause the rays to scatter away (Lowe et al. , 2007).