Stingrays may have gotten a bad reputation after the unfortunate death of Steve Irwin – one of Australia’s (television’s) most beloved naturalists who was killed in an accident when a stingray barb pierced his chest. However, this was a freak occurrence and very few people are injured by Stingray’s each year.
If Stingrays are stepped on they will use the barb in self defense. However the venom is not lethal – however those who have been stabbed report that the experience can be incredibly painful.
Stingrays are found in seas and oceans across the globe – however one of the most widespread species are the Southern Stingrays.
These animals are found in the warm waters of the western Atlantic ocean and have a geographic distribution that stretches from northeastern United States all the way to southern Brazil.
Much like most other ray species the Southern Stingrays are characterized by a diamond shaped body with their mouth found on the underside of the body. There are many southern rays found at Stingray City Cayman Islands The coloration of the Southern Stingray is olive green or a dull grey / brown on the upper surface while the underside is a unblemished white.
Mature female rays can reach up to 150cm in width, while the males are significantly smaller.
As their name would indicate the barb on the tail is what gives the Stingray its name. However, it is not a sting in the proper sense of the word. Rather it’s a barb which is covered in venomous mucous. This barb is only used to defend the animal from threats and is not used in hunting or any other offensive activity.
The Southern Stingrays are active night hunters. They blow a stream of water from their mouths or use vigorous flapping motion from the their fins in order to expose their prey by blowing aside sand. Prey includes small fishes, bottom dwelling worms as well as a wide variety of crustacean species. They can cover vast distances in their search fro prey due to the energy efficient nature of their swimming motion which involves a wave like flexing of their fins.
Like most other rays the Southern Stingray usually spends most of its time partially buried in the sand with only its eyes showing. The location of the ‘spiracles’ on the top of the body near the eyes allows the rays to breath while buried in the sand.
In fact Southern Stingrays are so inoffensive that divers and snorkelers are often offered the opportunity to interact with the species in places like Grand Cayman and Antigua. Tour operators offer tourists the opportunity to hand feed the Stingrays and allow those on day trips to enter the water to interact with the rays.
These day trips are tremendously popular and the Stingrays have become so accustomed to human interaction that they can now be hand fed in complete safety. Visitors now compare the Stingrays to household pets – and in fact the rays are now so docile that they seem to enjoy belly rubs and actively seek out the attention of visitors.
The Southern Stingray is one of the most fascinating creatures to be found off both the North American, South American and the Western Atlantic. The symbiotic relationship that they have formed with human beings in places like Grand Cayman and other tourist destinations make them firm favorites with visitors from all over the globe.
Although there have been questions regarding the impact of human beings on the natural behavior of the rays there can be no doubt that they are firm favorites with tourists who flock to island destinations in the hope of a never to be forgotten interaction with these play-full animals.