Sharks & Rays
Myth 1: Sharks Must Swim Constantly or They Die!
Myth 2: Sharks are the Number One Cause of Animal-Related Deaths!
Myth 3: All Rays Have Poisonous Stingers!
Myth 4: All Sharks are Like the Great White!
Myth 5: Sharks Can Detect a Single Drop of Blood in the Ocean!
Myth 6: Sharks Do Not Get Cancer!

Ray Drawings
19th century rendering...

Myth 3:

All Rays Have Poisonous Stingers!

Many people think that there is only one kind of ray--the stingray. While it is true that rays and skates are perhaps not as popular with the media as their close cousins the sharks, they in fact exhibit an even greater diversity. Over 600 species are represented in a range of habitats--from the cold northern waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to the frigid Antarctic; in cool, temperate, warm, and tropical seas; and coastal and pelagic waters. Some species of rays permanently inhabit freshwaters, while sharks are primarily marine. Some species of sharks enter freshwater, but with few questionable exceptions, none is known to spend its entire life in fresh water.

Rays differ from sharks primarily in being "flattened," which has engendered a number of adaptations--their pectoral fins are enlarged and fused to their bodies and their mouth, nostrils and gills are located on their undersides, while their eyes are found on their dorsal surfaces. The demarcation between sharks and rays is not so clear--they are members of the same class, and there are a number of species which are classified as one, but superficially resemble the other. The angel shark, for example, is a shark, but has a ray-like body and is more closely related to rays than it is to other sharks. The sawfish is classified as a ray, but with the exception of its elongated saw-like snout (which is quite unique in the animal kingdom), looks much more like a shark. There are about 185 species of stingrays, approximately 35 of which live exclusively in fresh water.

Out of the 600 species of rays, only one group - the stingrays - possess caudal stings. Many other rays have long, stout, strong tails endowed with dorsal fins, and swim like sharks (i.e., by moving their tails from side to side, and not by undulating movements of their discs, as is more typically associated with rays). Stingrays use their stings strictly for defense. When triggered by pressure on the back of the stingray, the tail is suddenly and powerfully thrusted upward and forward, into the victim, which makes the stingray dangerous only if stepped on. Native South Americans who live by rivers where freshwater stingrays are present will advise newcomers to drag their feet when venturing into the water. That way, stingrays are harmlessly kicked out of the way and not stepped on.

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