Southern stingrays have a flattened, disc-shaped body and long tail. Some stingrays have very round discs, whereas the southern stingray’s body looks more like a diamond from above. The tail, which can be twice as long as the body, has a serrated barb or spine that the stingray uses for defense.
What They Eat
With a mouth positioned on the underside of the body, these stingrays “graze” along the soft sea floor. They try to stir up prey such as smaller fish, mollusks, worms, shrimp and crabs. Since most of their food is buried, these stingrays will shoot water out of their mouth and flap their fins to uncover hidden prey.
Where They Live
These stingrays are found along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey, through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean coasts, south to Brazil. Rarely found at depths of more than 175 feet, southern stingrays prefer seagrass beds and areas with a soft sand or silt bottom.
What They Do
A stingray is a fish, even though its body resembles a flattened disc, with eyes on top and a mouth on the bottom. Its fins move like wings as it swims through the water. Southern stingrays will sometimes partially bury themselves in sand with just their eyes sticking out. This is a good way to hide from predators, such as the hammerhead shark.
How They’re Doing
Not enough research has been done to assess the worldwide population of southern stingrays, although they appear to be fairly common. Stingrays are sometimes caught as bycatch, meaning they are unintentionally caught with more desirable fish.
The zoo currently has two southern stingrays on display, one male and one female. More may be added in the future. Look closely at their tails and you can tell the male from the female—he has a clasper on either side of his tail.
The rays are offered food on the same days as the sharks in the exhibit. Shark and ray feeding is viewable to the public on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 11:30 AM. The rays can eat any food that may hit the bottom of the tank any time the fish are fed, but generally they rise to the surface near the shark feeding platform to take food offered by the aquarists on a feeding stick. As the rays rise from the bottom of the viewing window you can see the color of their undersides and the location of their mouths. If they are resting on the substrate, you may occasionally see them flap their fins to cover themselves with sand. In the wild they use behavior this to find buried food like clams and mussels.
- Southern stingrays are known to visit ‘cleaning stations,’ where fish called cleaner wrasse will remove the parasites from their bodies!
- Male stingrays are easy to differentiate from females because they have a visible clasper on either side of the tail base. The claspers are used during mating.
- A baby stingray is called a pup. At birth, southern stingray pups have a 7-inch disc width. Female southern stingrays give birth to 2-10 pups every year or two.
- Like their shark relatives, stingrays have special organs called ampullae of Lorenzini that help them sense electrical fields. This ability, along with strong senses of smell and touch, helps them locate prey buried beneath the sand.
- A stingray’s gills are on the underside of its body near its mouth. Holes near the eyes, called spiracles, draw water in, which is then expelled through the gills. A stingray can bury itself to hide in the sand, leaving only its spiracles and eyes poking out.
- Stingrays are named for the venomous barbs or spines on their tails which are used for defense.
Not enough research has been done to assess the population of southern stingrays, although they appear to be fairly common. Many other species of stingray are endangered, however, and the southern stingray could follow if demand for stingray leather remains high. Stingrays are also caught as bycatch, meaning they are netted or hooked unintentionally by fisherman. You can learn more about sustainable fisheries that reduce bycatch by visiting the Minnesota Zoo’s Fish Smart page.