15 Stunning Stingray Facts

A group of stingrays in the ocean

Natasha Brown / Getty Images

With their flat bodies and long, barbed tails, stingrays look like creatures from another world. These marine dwelling vertebrates are actually quite common, and are found in warm and shallow waters around the world’s tropical and subtropical regions, as well as freshwater lakes and rivers. Find out what makes stingrays one of the most unique marine animals.

1. Stingrays Are Carnivores

Stingrays are purely carnivorous, preying on animals that live on or under the sand. A study that examined diet reconstruction in southern stingrays along the Caribbean found that stingrays fed primarily on crustaceans, ray-finned fish, and worms. Supplemental research found that the species consumed at least 65 different prey types — as many as 30 each day.

2. They Move by Flapping Their 'Wings'

Stingrays may look like they’re flying through the water, but a closer look will reveal a graceful flapping motion propelling them through. Most species undulate their bodies to get from place to place, moving like an underwater wave, but others tend to flap their sides up and down like wings. Research conducted by the Save Our Seas Foundation found that stingrays in South Africa moved at 1.35 kilometers per hour (0.83 miles per hour), and some species took migrations as far as 850 kilometers (528 miles).

3. Stingrays Are Closely Related to Sharks

They may not have sharp teeth, but stingrays still share several similarities with sharks. They are both part of the same group of cartilaginous fish (meaning their skeletons are supported by cartilage instead of bones) and have similar skin. They also use the same ampullae of Lorenzini sensors, which are special sensing organs that pick up on the electrical signals emitted by prey.

4. Stingray Babies Are Born Fully Developed

Babies, called pups, are able to swim and feed immediately after being born, and most species require absolutely no parental care. Scientists are just starting to understand how getting caught (even accidentally) can cause premature births in ray species. In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, about 85% of blue stingrays lost their offspring after being caught.

A baby stingray
daboost / Getty Images

5. Females Are Larger Than Males

Not only do females reach sexual maturity faster than males, they tend to live longer as well. Among round stingrays, a particularly fast-growing species, females and males reach 58% and 70% of their full size, respectively, within the first year of life. Females live for an average of 15-22 years, while males only live five to seven years.

6. Stingray Touch Tanks Are a Touchy Subject

The research on whether or not stingrays like being touched is controversial at best. For example, the AZA-certified Shedd Aquarium in Chicago published findings in 2017 suggesting that the animals don’t suffer from their interactions with humans, and might even enjoy it. Just a year later, however, 34 of the aquarium’s 42 cownose stingrays featured in the touch exhibit mysteriously died.

7. They Are Venomous

We all remember when beloved television personality and wildlife activist Steve Irwin was fatally pierced in the heart by a stingray in 2006. Stingrays have long, thin tails with between one and three venomous barbs attached, and the sting usually causes immense pain and risk of infection at the wound site. According to the National Capital Poison Control Center, there are about 1,500 to 2,000 stingray injuries reported each year in the United States, and most are on the legs or feet.

8. They Sleep in the Sand

While resting, stingrays bury their bodies in the sand, leaving their defensive barb sticking out to protect themselves as they sleep. This can be problematic in areas where humans enter the water, so it is recommended that beachgoers do the “stingray shuffle” to produce vibrations in the sand and warn stingrays of their presence.

9. There Are Over 200 Species of Stingrays

Experts estimate that there are about 220 different species of stingrays across the world’s oceans, lakes, and freshwater rivers. The smalleye stingray is one of the ocean’s rarest species, with a wingspan of over 7 feet, white spots, and tiny eyes (hence the nickname). Before the early 2000s, there were only a handful of sightings, but sightings are quickly becoming more frequen; researchers have seen 70 individuals off the coast of southern Mozambique over the past 15 years. 

10. Some Species Chew Their Food

Biologists at University of Toronto filmed freshwater stingrays munching on soft fish, shrimp, and hard-shelled dragonfly nymphs using high speed cameras. The findings suggested that both mammals and stingrays had evolved similar methods of breaking down food independently of each other. Before that, mammals were believed to be the only animals to chew their food.

11. They Lived at the Same Time as Dinosaurs

In 2019, a team from the Institute of Paleontology of the University of Vienna discovered a fossil stingray dated at over 50 million years old. The research provided new links to radiation caused by the aftermath of the Cretaceous mass extinction event. Further molecular data suggested that modern stingrays diverged from a sister group during the Late Jurassic, about 150 million years ago.

Bluespotted stingray on the ocean floor
Sebastian Condrea / Getty Images

12. Stingrays Are Different Than Manta Rays

Though they are often lumped into the same category, stingrays and manta rays are actually different. A manta ray’s mouth is found along the front edge of its body while a stingray’s is located on the underside of its body. Manta rays also lack the stingray’s signature tail stinger or barb and live in the open ocean rather than on the seafloor.

13. They Can Get Pretty Large

In 2009, a giant freshwater stingray was caught and released in Thailand that measured 14 feet long and between 700 pounds and 800 pounds heavy. One of the largest freshwater fish ever documented, the female Himantura polylepis stingray was also estimated to be anywhere from 35 to 40 years old.

14. They Can Detect Magnetic Fields

Scientists conducted tests on yellow stingrays in 2020 to prove the animals could use earth’s magnetic field to maintain their sense of direction while navigating throughout their environment. They found evidence that not only proved stingrays could detect changes within the geomagnetic field, but also that they can use the field to their advantage by orienting themselves and maintaining a heading during navigation.

15. Over 25 Stingray Species Are Endangered

The IUCN Red List of Endangered Species lists at least 26 species of stingrays as either Endangered or Critically Endangered. Most species are little known and have decreasing populations, as well, complicating conservation efforts. Among the endangered species is the roughnose cowtail ray, whose population has declined between 50% and 79% over the past 60 years due to exploitation and habitat loss.

Save the Endangered Stingrays

  • While you aren’t likely to run across an elusive roughnose stingray, the best way to protect stingrays in general is by avoiding getting stung. Practice the “stingray shuffle” by shuffling your feet in the sand while entering water where stingray frequent.
  • Buy sustainable seafood and support policies against overfishing. Consult FishWatch.gov to check on recommendations for the different types of fish.
  • Reduce ocean trash by picking up after yourself at the beach and taking part in cleanup efforts. The Ocean Conservancy offers resources to participate or start your own ocean cleanup project.
  • Always view wildlife respectfully. Especially considering the dangers of wild stingrays, avoid chasing, feeding, or touching them in the wild.
View Article Sources
  1. Tilley, Alexander et al. "Diet Reconstruction and Resource of Partitioning of a Caribbean Marine Mesopredator Using Stable Isotope Bayesian Modelling." PLOS ONE, vol. 8, no. 11, 2013, pp. e79560, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079560

  2. "The Stingray Tales." Save Our Seas Foundation.

  3. Adams, Kye, et al. "Sharks, Rays and Abortion: The Prevalence of Capture-Induced Partuition in Elasmobranchs." Biological Conservation, vol. 217, 2018, pp. 11-27, doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2017.10.010

  4. Meija-Falla, Paola, et al. "Age and Growth of the Round Stingray Urotrygon rogersi, a Particularly Fast-Growing and Short-Lived Elasmobranch." PLOS ONE, vol. 9, no. 4, 2014, pp. e96077, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096077

  5. Johnson, James, et al. "Evaluation of Health Parameters in Cownose Rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) Housed in a Seasonal Touch Pool Habitat Compared with an Off-Exhibit Habitat." Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, vol. 48, no. 4, 2017, pp. 954-960, doi:10.1638/2017-0091.1

  6. "How to Prevent and Treat Stingray Injuries." National Capital Poison Control Center.

  7. Boggio-Pasqua, Atlantine, et al. "Spotting the "Small Eyes": Using Photo-ID Methodology to Study a Wild Population of Smalleye Stingrays (Megatrygon microps) in Southern Mozambique." PeerJ, vol. 7, 2019, pp. e7110, doi:10.7717/peerj.7110

  8. Kolmann, Matthew, et al. "Always Chew Your Food: Freshwater Stingrays Use Mastication to Process Tough Insect Prey." Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 283, no. 1838, 2016, doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.1392

  9. Marrama, Giuseppe, et al. "A Bizarre Eocene Dasyatoid Batomorph (Elasmobranchii, Myliobatiformes) from the Bolca Lagerstätte (Italy) Reveals a New, Extinct Body Plan for Stingrays." Scientific Reports, vol. 9, no. 14087, 2019, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-50544-y

  10. Newton, Kyle and Kajiura, Stephen. "The Yellow Stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis) Can Use Magnetic Field Polarity to Orient in Space and Solve a Maze." Marine Biology, vol. 167, vol. 36, 2020, doi:10.1007/s00227-019-3643-9

  11. "Roughnose Cowtail Ray." International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.