A distant cousin of the shark, Stingrays and other rays like skates, electric rays, guitarfishes and sawfishes are classified as Batoidea, a type of cartilaginous fish and have around 500 described species in thirteen families. They are pretty widespread and can be found in seas on the floor, across the world in both temperate and cold-water. The manta is an exception living in open waters and a few fresh water species living in brackish bays and estuaries.
Most species of rays have flat bodies that facilitate them to effectively conceal themselves in their environment which is the sea bed. Their disc like shape (in most ray species) have five ventral slot-like body openings called gill slits that lead from the gills and their mouths on the undersides.Because their eyes are on top of their bodies they cannot see their prey and use smell and electro-receptors similar to those of sharks.
These docile creatures are often misunderstood and categorized as dangerous which is not really the case. While they do posses stings they generally do not attack aggressively and if threatened, their primary reaction is to swim away. However, a defensive reaction causes it to whip up their stinger which is often the case when attacked by predators or stepped on. Even then, if stung by a stingray it is rarely fatal and if stung in the lower limb region will most likely just be a cut causing pain, swelling and muscle cramps from the venom, or even an infection unless it hits the upper body, a major artery or causes a very deep puncture.
Here’s a look at a few common types of Rays:
Smooth Stingray or Short-tail Stingray
The Smooth Stingray also known as the short-tail stingray is the largest of the world’s stingrays. Found around South Africa, Mozambique, Australia and New Zealand, it can weigh well over 350 kg (770 lb), and sand across over 2 m (6 ft) in diameter and have an overall length of up to 4.3 m (14 ft) including it’s tail which is why it’s sometimes called bull ray. This bluish-grey or grey-brown stingray often has 2 stings, a small one in front one and the usual rear one considerably larger, which bear toxin glands.
This type of stingray is commonly found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. It has a flat, diamond-shaped body, with a mud brown upper-body, white underbelly and venomous barbed tail. Stingray City in the Grand Caymans is famous for swimming, snorkeling and diving with this type of stingray.
Blue Spotted Ray
This colorful stingray has large bright blue spots on its oval, elongated disc and blue side-stripes along the tail. They are found in the Indo-West Pacific region, mostly from the Red Sea and East Africa to the Solomon Islands, Japan and Australia. They reach a maximum length about 70 cm.
Eagle rays unlike stingrays tend to live in the open ocean rather than on the bottom of the sea. Compared with other rays, their tails are quite long and they are a well-defined rhomboidal shape featuring distinct wings.
Spotted Eagle Ray
The spotted eagle ray is one of the most beautiful rays and is also known as the bonnet ray. It’s inky blue body is covered with almost star like white spots. Weighing about 230 kg (about 507 lbs), it wings can grow as wide as 2.5 m (8 ft) and can reach up to 5 m (16 ft) in length with its tail. Spotted eagle rays are a spectacular sight to see swimming just below the surface of open waters in large schools. They can even be spotted jumping out and across the waters sometimes.
The largest of all ray species, the manta is part of the eagle ray family. Found throughout tropical waters of the world, typically around coral reefs, the manta ray can grow to a width of 7.6 meters (25 ft) across and weight about 2,300 kilograms (5,100 lb)! Their huge size
however, doesn’t in anyway affect their mobility and these giant creatures are gracefully agile underwater. Mantas are filter feeders living off plankton, fish larvae and the like frequent cleaning stations where small fish such as wrasse, remora and angelfish swim in the manta’s gills and over its skin it of parasites and dead tissue. As a diver to spot one of these magnificent creatures is often described as an experience of a lifetime and The Manta Ray Night Dive in Kailua Kona, Hawaii rated among the Top 10 Dive Sites of the World is the ultimate Manta Ray experience.