Stingrays are a group of eight families of rays with flattened, disc-like bodies and the appearance of having “wings” in some species. Most stingrays also have long tails tipped with venomous stingers. However, the largest member of the suborder, the manta ray, does not have a stinger on its tail and is harmless. Manta rays can grow up to 25 feet across and weigh nearly 3,000lbs.
Stingrays can be found in oceans throughout the world, with most members preferring warm tropical and subtropical waters. Stingrays primarily feed upon invertebrates such as mollusks and crustaceans, though some larger rays do feed on fish. Most members of the stingray suborder do not have teeth and can only use their mouths to suck prey in, though some do have plates in their jaws which can be used to crush shells when feeding.
The flattened bodies of stingrays allow them to easily hide on the ocean floor and some are able to alter their colors to match their surroundings. When feeding or inactive most rays will burrow themselves into the sand on the sea floor leaving only their barbed tails and eyes exposed.
The stinger on a ray’s tail is only used for defensive purposes. Stingrays are docile creatures by nature and prefer to hide or flee from danger if at all possible. Stings usually only occur if the ray is stepped on or feels cornered. Although they are venomous, stingray stings are usually not life-threatening but can be quite painful and occasionally require surgery if the stinger barb remains embedded in the wound. However, rare instances of rays stinging humans near their vital organs have resulted in fatalities, with the death of famous wildlife proponent Steve Irwin being most notable.