Spotted eagle ray

Aetobatus narinari

Description: The coloration and shape of the Spotted eagle ray make it easy to identify. The upperside is blackish-blue with white spots or circles which contrasts with the white underside. This coloration provides a type of camouflage called countershading. The body is flat and its wing-like pectoral fins give it a somewhat diamond shape. The duck-like snout is round and pointed at the tip, The eyes and spiracles (openings located behind the eyes that are used to pump water to the gills) are on the sides of its head. The darkly- colored, whip-like tail has up to six barbed spines that it uses for defense.

Size: The body of the Spotted eagle ray can be more than ten feet (3 m) wide and total length, including the tail, can be more than 20 feet (4.9 m). Weight usually varies between 400-500 pounds (181-227 kg).

Behavior: When not foraging, Spotted eagle rays swim well off the bottom, in small groups or in groups of 50-100 when in open water. These graceful swimmers often appear to be flying through the water in synchrony. The large pectoral fins allow for ease and speed. It is believed that eagle rays may return or stay in much the same areas throughout their lives (known as high site fidelity). They are also capable of leaping out of the water.

Diet: Spotted eagle rays feed on a variety of benthic animals (organisms living on the bottom of the ocean). Diet includes animals such as: gastropod and bivalve molluscs, worms,
cephalopods, crustaceans, and small fishes. They use their shovel-shaped snout to search in the mud for benthic invertebrates. When a prey item is found, the ray crushes it with its heavy dental plates and uses the small projections (papillae) located in its mouth to separate the shells from the flesh.

Senses: They have an excellent sense of smell that allows them to detect food buried in the mud that can not be seen. They also use their electroreceptive organs (ampullae of Lorenzini) to recognize electrical and magnetic pulses.

Communication: When taken out of the water, they can produce loud sounds, however, it is not known if there is intraspecific communication between these rays.

Reproduction: Spotted eagle rays are ovoviviporous (eggs hatch internally and bear live young) producing two to four pups. Gestation period is believed to be about twelve months.

Habitat/range: Spotted eagle rays can be found throughout the world in tropical and warm temperate waters; in shallow coastal waters by coral reefs and bays and in depths down to 260 feet (80 m). They can be found globally across the Indo-Pacific and eastern and western Atlantic.

Status: Listed as Near Threatened (NT) by IUCN.