The Atlantic stingray (Hypanus sabinus) is part of a family of stingrays called “whiptails.” Like its other family members, it has a long, whiplike tail with a venomous spine.

Atlantic stingrays live in shallow waters along the Atlantic coast from the Chesapeake Bay to South Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico as far south as Campeche, Mexico. Only about 30 to 35 centimeters (12 to 14 inches) wide, they are the most abundant and widely distributed ray in shallow water estuaries.

Comfortable in waters with changing levels of salinity, these rays are also found in freshwater lakes and rivers. Atlantic stingrays that live in the St. John’s River system in Florida are the only known permanent freshwater population of an elasmobranch in North America.

Stingrays bury themselves in sandy or silty seabeds to hide from prey and predators. They don’t attack people, but if accidentally surprised or stepped on, they will defend themselves with their tails.

The pierce of the stingray’s spine is painful, but the venom is rarely life-threatening to humans. Researchers in biomedicine, neurology, and physiology, in fact, are investigating potential medical uses of the venom.

Atlantic stingrays are highly electroreceptive fish and have cells that can detect weak electric fields naturally generated by their prey. This enables them to find clams, crustaceans, Nereid worms, and other prey, even when they are buried in the sand.

Tiger sharks, bull sharks, and other inshore shark species are major predators of the Atlantic stingray. Scientists think that alligators feed on freshwater stingrays.

The Atlantic stingray is not fished directly but can be caught in fishing nets. It is mostly released alive, with a high survival rate.

  1. How is an Atlantic stingray’s sandy color helpful?

    • Answer

      The Atlantic stingray hides under the surface of a sandy or silty seabed, easily camouflaged.

  2. What sensory trait does the Atlantic stingray share with its main predators, the sharks?

    • Answer

      Electroreception. The Atlantic stingray and the tiger shark, bull shark, and other shark species all have the ability to detect electric currents in prey created by movement, a heartbeat and more. Sharks can use their electroreception to locate rays buried under the sand.

  3. What are the main threats to Atlantic stingrays living in freshwater?

    • Answer

      Freshwater populations of the Atlantic stingray are vulnerable to algal blooms, stormwater runoff, and wastewater discharge.

abundant
Adjective

in large amounts.

biomedicine
Noun

application of biology to clinical medicine.

elasmobranch
Noun

cartilaginous fish with 5-7 gill openings, composed mainly of sharks, rays, and skates.

electroreceptive
Adjective

able to detect weak, natural electrostatic fields in the environment.

freshwater
Adjective

having to do with a habitat or ecosystem of a lake, river, or spring.

neurology
Noun

study of the nervous system.

physiology
Noun

study of activity in living organisms, including physical and chemical processes.

predator
Noun

animal that hunts other animals for food.

salinity
Noun

saltiness.

spine
Noun

stiff, sharp structure extending from an animal's body.

venomous
Adjective

having to do with venom or organisms that secrete venom.