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A cownose ray gives us a glimpse of the flat mouth on the bottom of its body designed for sucking up and crushing clams on the ocean floor.

Cownose Ray

You couldn’t find a better species for an experience like Stingray Touch than the big-eyed, blunt-snouted, gentle cownose rays. When you watch them flying, like a flock of birds, just under the surface in a large school, you’ll see that they stay in touch with each other, brushing wingtips or fluttering over and under each other. Cownose rays are tactile animals.

A cownose stingray swims through Shedd Aquarium's Caribbean Reef exhibit.
A group of cownose stingrays swim in their Stingray Touch habitat.

Long-distance swimmers

Cownose rays are renowned for their marathon mass migrations. Each autumn, as their summer waters as far north as southern New England start to cool, schools numbering thousands of rays seek warmer habitats in the southern Caribbean, including Venezuela and Brazil. In the Gulf of Mexico, schools of as many as 10,000 rays migrate from the waters off Florida's west coast down and around to Yucatan. These rays are also found along the coast of West Africa. Moving in huge numbers offers protection from predators such as hammerhead and great white sharks.

A diver comes face to face with three curious cownose rays, each about the size of her torso.

Venomous but not dangerous

Like many other rays, cownoses have one or two venomous barbed spines at the base of the tail that they wield in self-defense. These rays aren't considered dangerous to humans, though, because the venom is not fatal and the fish seldom rest on the bottom, reducing their likelihood of being stepped on—the most common run-in between rays and people. While they live in warm or temperate coastal waters, they tend to swim at the surface. The cownose rays in Stingray Touch have had their spines clipped in a procedure similar to clipping fingernails.

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