Stingrays live in waters across the globe in temperate, coastal, and subtropical regions. Although stingrays have been around for up to or more than 150 million years (the Jurassic era), many species face endangerment due to overfishing, climate change, and habitat loss.
Many types of stingrays are essential to life underwater because they act as natural habitat engineers.
Stingrays are bottom dwellers, which means they search for food by excavating sandy areas, thus creating microhabitats for tiny invertebrates.
In other words, without stingrays, many oceanic food chains couldn’t survive.
Without essential underwater elements such as phytoplankton, life on Earth would be significantly harder such as breathing – phytoplankton makes up almost half of the world’s oxygen!
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What Is a Stingray?
Stingrays are distant cousins to sharks and are classified as Batoidea, a type of cartilaginous fish. There are around 500 known species of stingrays worldwide, though many kinds of stingrays are endangered or vulnerable due to human behavior.
Stingrays fall under another classification known as elasmobranchs which signify boneless skeletons made of mostly cartilage. Most stingrays are bottom dwellers who are identified by their flat bodies, range in colors, and unique camouflage abilities.
A stingray’s eyes rest on top of its head, so it is difficult for them to see its food. The stingray’s mouth lies on the fish’s underside so it can gobble up worms, shrimp, clams, and other sea-floor life.
What makes a stingray remarkable is their tail. Their tails have serrated venomous barbs that paralyze and sometimes kill threats. When stingrays feel threatened, they’ll warn their predators by lifting their tails upward as a sign to back away.
So, what is a stingray exactly? In this article, we’ll discuss 11 main types of stingrays.
Short Tail or Smooth Stingray
Scientific Name: Dasyatis brevicaudata
Other Names: Bathytoshia brevicaudata, bull ray, giant ray
Size: 14 ft
Distribution: West Pacific, Antitropical, Southern Africa, New Zealand, Japan, and Eastern Russia
The short tail stingray can be found in depths of 476 meters (1,562 feet) and prefers to live along sandy bottoms and bays close to rocky reefs.
Despite its name, the short-tail stingray is one of the largest stingrays in the world, as they can weigh up to almost 800 pounds.
Most stingrays have long, skinny tails that flow gracefully behind them; the short-tail stingray has a unique tail appearance, with two serrated stinging spines.
The short tail feeds on mollusks and crustaceans among the rocky reefs and sandy bottom ocean floor. However, the short tail may enter open water to feed on salps and hyperiid amphipods.
The short-tail stingray was discovered in 1875 and was previously known as Trygon Brevicaudata, then changed later. Mating lasts up to five minutes, and the lifespan of a short tail lives up to 25 years.
Scientific Name: Manta Birostris
Other Names: Atlantic ray, giant devil rays, blanket fish, eagle ray, great devilfish, Pacific manta, sea devil
Size: 23 feet
Distribution: Western Atlantic, South Carolina; Brazil, Bermuda
Another large ray species, the manta ray, prefers tropical, subtropical, and temperate bodies of water.
There are two distinct types of manta rays, the reef manta ray, which stays exclusively near coral reefs, and the oceanic manta ray found offshore in the deep ocean.
Despite its massive size, the manta ray gets its nutrition from planktonic organisms such as euphausiids, copepods, larvae, and shrimp.
Manta rays live up to 40 years old and birth one pup every three or four years. Manta rays are unique in appearance and known as one of the widest rays (7 meters long), including their whip-like and lengthy tails.
The manta ray was first discovered by Dondorff in 1798 and has faced many threats, including overfishing and bycatch, as well as large sharks and killer whales.
Scientific Name: Torpediniformes
Other Names: Crampfish, numbfish, torpedo fish
Size: 4.5 to 6 feet
Distribution: North and South America Coasts, Africa, Mediterranean
The electric ray was first discovered in 1855 by Ayres and named Torpedo californica, but later changed to its known name by Gill in 1861.
These slow-moving ray species are bottom dwellers that reside on sandy sea floors, feeding on herring, kelp bass, anchovies, and halibut.
Electric rays are known for their incredible abilities, shocking up to 220 volts per sting – enough to paralyze a human adult but not life-threatening.
Lesser electric rays birth up to 2 pups at a time, whereas larger species can birth up to 60 pups at a time.
Sharks and other large mammals prey on electric rays, though they have very few natural predators due to their large size and camouflage abilities.
Scientific Name: Gymnura Micrura
Other Names: Diamond skate, short-tailed lesser butterfly, butterfly ray
Size: 3-4 feet
Distribution: Western and Eastern Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Maryland, Brazil
The butterfly ray got its name due to its equal part diamond shape and is from the family Gymnuridae where there are roughly 12 species. Butterfly rays can be identified by their distinct colors ranging from brown, gray, or light green.
Butterfly rays prefer shallow beaches, bays, and open sand, where they feed on bony fish, copepods, crabs, shrimp, [prawns], and bivalves.
Large mammals such as hammerhead sharks prey on butterfly rays, though they are long-lived as scientists believe a butterfly ray can live up to 100 years.
Blue Spotted Ray
Scientific Name: Taeniura lymma
Other Names: Blue-spotted ribbon tail ray, blue-spotted lagoon ray, blue-spotted fantail ray
Size: 14 inches
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific, Red Sea, East Africa, Southern and Northern Australia
These blue-spotted rays may be a smaller type of ray, though their vibrant blue spots keep them protected as it tells predators such as dolphins and hammerhead sharks to stay away.
If the Blue-spotted ray feels threatened, they swim surprisingly fast in zig-zag motions to throw off predators.
Ribbon tails like shallow temperate and tropical waters where they feel most protected alongside reefs and under rocky ledges.
Within these protected areas, the blue-spotted ray finds nourishment in sandworms, shrimp, clams, hermit crabs, and other small fish.
Scientific Name: Urobatis halleri
Other Names: California stingray, spotted stingray, Cortez ray, dwarf Cortez ray, round ray
Size: 22.8 inches
Distribution: Eastern Pacific, Southern and Northern California, Mexico
Unlike most stingrays, the round ray has no dorsal fins and a smaller caudal fin (tail), mainly because it’s round with a pointed snout – the reason for its name.
The round stingray varieties in color, from tan to brown or gray, and from spot to varying markings give them camouflage in their habitat.
Round rays prefer rocky reefs coupled with sandy or muddy sea floors, feeding on worms, shrimp, amphipods, and other small fish during the day.
Round rays can live up to 14 years and mature at three years old. During mating seasons, in March and April, the round ray delivers up to six pups.
Round rays will keep a safe distance from predators such as divers, giant sea bass, elephant seals, and leopard sharks.
Scientific Name: Dasyatidae
Other Names: Whiprays, Whip-tail stingrays, diamond stingrays, Hawaiian stingrays
Size: 70 inches
Distribution: Gulf of Mexico, Florida
Most whiptail stingrays (approximately 69 species) are found in shallow tropical and subtropical waters, burying themselves in the sand and feeding on crustaceans, mollusks, and worms.
Whiptail rays vary in color from leopard-like spots and small blue dots or honeycomb patterns; they’re mainly blue, gray, black, and sometimes green.
Some stingrays have venomous tails, whereas the whiptail ray has electric organs that stun their predators, similar to the ‘electric ray.’
Whiptail rays are not aggressive and usually run from predators like many shark species. If divers or predators swim above the whiptail, they defend themselves by quickly whipping their tails upward, giving a fatal sting.
Scientific Name: Urobatis jamaicensis
Other Names: yellow stingray, yellow spotted stingray, maid stingray
Size: 26 inches
Distribution: Western Atlantic, North Carolina, Florida, Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas, Caribbean
Discovered by a diver Raja Jamaicensis (the reason for its scientific name), in 1816, the yellow stingray can be found in multiple colors and patterns despite its name.
These markings and colors vary depending on where they inhabit and work best for defense by helping them camouflage into the sand.
Large predatory fish and tiger sharks are the main predators of the yellow stingray, though the yellow ray uses its venomous tail as a line of defense.
Yellow stingrays can birth up to four pups at a time, carry their young for about six months, and live no longer than 25 years.
Scientific Name: Aetobatus narinari
Other Names: Spotted eagle ray, bonnet skate, bonnet ray, duckbill ray
Size: Over 11 ft
Distribution: Western Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina, Florida, Caribbean and Bermuda South, Brazil
Stingrays in the eagle ray family are sizable and live in open waters up to 60 meters deep (200 feet below the surface).
The open water provides sufficient food, such as clams, oysters, shrimp, octopus, and sea urchins.
The eagle ray got its name from its appearance, known as one of the most beautiful rays to inhabit the ocean, ranging from deep blues to dark gray or brown with distinctive features.
Features and markings represent leopard-like spots that vary in colors from green to yellow, white, or light blue.
Scientific Name: Dasyatis americana
Other Names: Southern stingray, kit, stingaree, whip stingray
Size: Females are up to 60 inches, and males grow up to 26 inches
Distribution: Southern Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico
Southern rays live up to 15 years old and are mainly found along sandy seabeds on the ocean floor.
Their main predators are hammerhead sharks, but as a line of defense, they’ll use their oversized tails to sting and poison their predators when threatened.
As of December 2020, the southern stingray was considered near threatened due to bycatching, ocean acidification, climate change, and habitat loss.
It may be hard to spot a southern stingray due to its appearance as its diamond-shaped bodies blend with the ocean floor ranging in colors from brown, olive green, and dark gray.
Scientific Name: Myliobatis californica
Other Names: NA
Size: 6 feet
Distribution: Gulf of California near the Galapagos Islands.
The bat ray is distinguishable by its bat-like appearance. These small rays have bat-like wings and are primarily black or charcoal in color.
Bat rays inhabit much of the sea floor, sticking close to food and away from predators such as sea lions and sharks.
Bat rays will live up to 35 years, though females may live longer and have a gestation period of up to 12 months, birthing up to ten pups at a time.
Usually leading a solitary life, the bat ray can be found in groups of thoud=sands during mating seasons in spring or summer once a year.