At first glance, a stingray seems to be the oddest type of fish. No fins, yet it swims effortlessly in the water. A thin tail, yet it is able to break into lightning-quick bolts of speed. Stingrays are common in coastal tropical and subtropical marine waters throughout the world, and also includes species found in warmer temperate and deep oceans. There are also river stingrays, and a number of whiptail stingrays which are restricted to fresh water. While most stingrays are relatively widespread and not currently threatened, for several the conservation status is more problematic, leading to them being listed as vulnerable or endangered by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
These animals, of which there are approximately 530 known species, are the oddballs of the reef ecosystem. Visitors to the Great Barrier Reef marvel as they watch these animals glide over the sands and through the corals. But what does the average person know about stingrays? Sadly, the death of TV host and conservation legend Steve Irwin in 2006 put a lot is misinformation on these creatures, and through TV and movies, there have been a couple of myths surrounding one stingrays, and it’s time to set the record straight.
Myth: All Rays are stingrays
Stingrays are an order in the same class as rays and skates and are very distantly related to sharks. Stingrays refer to the eight families that have a barb on their tail; therefore, while all stingrays are rays, not all rays are stingrays, as not all rays have barbs on their tails. The largest ray, the Manta Ray, barely has a tail at all.
Myth: All stingrays will sting you
The barb on a stingray’s tail is only used for defence, and as they can take a long time to grow back, most species of stingray use the barb on their tail as a last resort or self-defence. Stingrays will always choose to flee when they feel threatened. Humans are only stung for two reasons: Stepping on a stingray on accident, which can be avoided by shuffling your feet in the sand rather than stomping, or when a human intentionally provokes a stingray and the animal feels it has no choice but to whip its tail and barb. The best way to avoid getting stung is to be cautious, and never provoke a live animal.
Remember: We have one reef. Let’s take care of it.