Explore by Animal

Mangrove Whiptail Rays

If you don’t see either of our two mangrove whiptail stingrays right away, it’s because these bottom-dwellers feel so at home in the shark habitat of Wild Reef, which features real coral sand on the reef floor.

But when they get the cue that it’s meal time, they swim 18 feet to the top of the habitat to be fed. “It took a lot of training,” says Lise Christopher, collection manager of Wild Reef, “but we were able to accomplish that.” The male and female rays are hand-fed a variety of fish as well as squid and chunks of clam. In the wild, this species (Himantura granulata) has a taste for crabs, sea cucumbers, small fishes, octopus and marine worms. Because a ray’s eyes are on top of its broad, disk-shaped body, and the mouth is on the underside, it can’t see its prey. Instead, this fish uses smell and electroreceptors similar to those of its shark relatives to locate a meal as it cruises the bottom. Stingrays and sharks share the same reef feeding grounds during high tide.

In this photo, you can easily see the ray’s countershading — light on the bottom side so, when viewed from below, it’s camouflaged by bright tropical sunshine; dark on the dorsal side, with white spots, so it’s invisible in the ocean when a predator is overhead. If attacked, the ray’s defense lies in its long, white-tipped tail, which carries one or two serrated, 7-inch spines that pack a toxic wollop. But Lise notes that the whiptails are peaceable creatures. Enjoy a moment of serenity watching them ripple through the reef.

 

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