Explore by Animal

Cownose Rays

A ray by any other name? A close inspection of its blunt snout reveals how the cownose ray got its name. But we can think of a few other names these mild-mannered animals could have been given. What about…

Schooling rays? Few ray species swim in large groups for protection like these rays do. During their seasonal migrations, cownose rays move in “fevers” of hundreds, and even thousands of animals. Wide-set eyes on the sides of its cow-like snout are an asset when a ray is looking out for danger.

Shark-fin rays? The cownose ray’s wingtips can curl above the water’s surface, bearing a startling resemblance to shark fins.

Clam-digging rays? Those fins can also stir things up at dinnertime. A ray rapidly flaps its fins and sucks sand through its gills to churn the sediment and expose hidden oysters, clams and other shellfish. Then, with mouth flaps lowered to the sand, it sucks in shellfish like a vacuum cleaner. The ray’s mouth, strategically located on its underside, has flat plate-like teeth to crunch the shells and get the tasty animals inside.

Oyster-thieving rays? Unfortunately, cownose rays are the bane of oyster fishers, descending on oyster beds en masse and leaving only shell fragments. The rays’ taste for shellfish, on top of serious pollution and disease problems, may be contributing to declining oyster populations in some areas. Cownose rays themselves are abundant in U.S. waters, but throughout the world’s ocean, rays and other animals risk death in fishing nets intended to catch other animals. Choosing sustainable seafood through Shedd’s Right Bite program is the best way everyone can protect rays.

Puppies of the sea? Although the stingray’s character is often equated with the most infamous part of its anatomy—the long barbed tail used for self-defense—cownose rays are gentle and social animals. During daily feeding dive presentations you can see cownose rays eagerly interacting with divers in the Caribbean Reef exhibit.

What would you have called the cownose ray?

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