Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia
Southern Stingray Dasyatis americana
Stingrays are feared because their long tails are equipped with one or more daggerlike, venomous spines. The southern stingray has a single, serrated spine about midway along the tail and a flap of skin, also known as a finfold, on the underside of the tail. Its thick disk is dark gray on top and white underneath. This stingray spends most of the day lying buried in the sand at the bottom of shallow lagoons and off beaches. At night, the ray feeds by excavating holes in the sand and crunching up bivalve mollusks, crustaceans, and worms. Because its eyes are on top of its head, it cannot see its prey but uses smell and electro-receptors to detect it. While it is buried, its spiracles—through which it draws in water for breathing—are visible as a pair of holes in the sand. People are often stung when they inadvertently step on southern stingrays; the stinging spine is sharp enough to cause a serious wound and the venom causes severe pain. The pain can be reduced by immersing the wound in hot water.
Southern stingrays are not aggressive toward humans and only sting if stepped on. Their stings are used as defense against sharks, their natural predator. At a site in Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, called “Stingray City,” they have become used to humans and can be hand-fed. Visitors wade, swim, and dive among these graceful creatures.