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Stingrays are seen as being quite playful creatures with the abundance of photographs shared by people who have been photobombed by their smiling faces. The only time stingrays have been known to attack is when a diver either swims in front of or directly over them, causing their escape route to be blocked. If they are not seen swimming around, they are often found hiding in the sandy shallow sea floor – so be sure to shuffle your feet along the ground to avoid stepping on them and being stung.
Like sharks, stingrays belong to the group of cartilaginous fish where their skeletons are made up of cartilage rather than bones. Also similarly to sharks, they make use of sensors located around their mouths called ‘ampullae of Lorenzini’ that allow the stingray to sense any electrical signals emitted by their prey – compensating for their poorly placed eyes.
As aforementioned, their eyes are placed poorly on their body. Whilst their mouth, gills and nostrils are located underneath (the bottom of their body), their eyes are located on top. As a result, they make use of their senses and smells to find food. So, despite them looking like they are constantly smiling at you from beneath, you are actually just looking at their nostrils and mouth.
Most species of stingrays have either one or more barbed stingers shaped like a spear at the end of their tail that hold venom in them. When stingrays feel threatened, they use this spear to strike. Acting like a steak knife, the stingray only ever uses it as a form of self-defence. Having only ever caused two reported deaths, one being Steve Irwin, their stingers are more harmful to those that threaten them.
As the stingray feeds on molluscs, crustaceans and small fish – by catching them in their mouth, crushing them and eating them with their surprisingly powerful jaws – their venom isn’t needed to kill them. Rather, it is only used in self-defence. As the venom is largely protein-based, it causes their prey great pain due to an alteration of their heart rate and respiration abilities occurring when stung. Being protein-based rather than poisonous, it has been found that dentists living in Ancient Greek times would use the venom extracted from the stingrays as an anaesthetic!
Whilst there are several different species of stingray, the way they move through the water is one of two known ways. The first is swimming in a wave-like motion, almost like surfing the currents to move around the ocean. Whilst most stingrays have adopted this style, many stingrays would rather flap their sides up and down like wings, making it seem like they are flying through the water like birds in the sky.
Although they lack bones, making it hard to find any fossils other than scales and teeth, it is suggested that the first ray dates back over 150 million years ago to the Lower Jurassic Period. Outliving the dinosaurs, all major taxa of the stingray had been established by the Paleocene Era, 100 million years later.