It’s moon-light surf, sound-tracked by the echo of crashing waves and annoyed seagulls. And then that infamous score comes through the white-noise; a cinematic note that can make any grown man step sheepishly away from a brewing bathtub, paralyzed by the nonsensical notion that there might be a twenty-plus-foot shark lurking inches from the drain. But, what if I were to tell you that “Jaws” had other ilk? Welcome to the weird-‘n’-quirky taxa that are stingrays.
Left or Right, Up or Down
Rays are found in all of the world’s temperate and arctic waters, occupying every nook-n-cranny of the water column. Large, nomadic rays like the giant oceanic rays can often be seen angelically gliding across the “blue zone,” while the less visually aesthetic deep water species, like the rightfully named deep-water stingray, living in complete darkness some four-thousand feet below the surface.
The Salad Bar’s Off Limits
Whether filter feeding their plankton prey or hunting-down prey fish, all rays are carnivores. You won’t, for example, see a blue-spotted ray strolling down the vegan isle at Whole Foods. Well, for one, you shouldn’t encounter any said ray in a grocery shopping, regardless. But, if you do, “I’ll make you a YouTube star, you coupon-cutting cartilaginous fish.”
Barbed And At The Ready
A trade mark of the ray class is their unique weaponry—an elongated barb that’s neatly tucked away at the base of their tail. This dorsally located barb isn’t just for show-‘n’-tell—it’s for protection. While not utilized for predatory endeavors, the barb’s sole purpose is to successfully fend-off encroaching threats that may have a fancy for pectoral fins. And, yet another arsenal in the ray’s already impressive weaponry is that barb isn’t just coated in sea water—its pumped-full of neurotoxins. When a potential predator approaches a ray from a dorsal angle—which is the most likely angle, being bottom dwellers and all—it will contort the base of its tail to a position that allows the ray to “back ally jab” the would-be threat. And, with a quick, blinding stab, the predator’s left wounded and coursing toxins—but alive.
No, They Don’t Have The Memory Of A Goldfish
And they probably would’ve eaten one, anyways. Rays are among the most intelligent of fish, having been observed to adopt beneficial set patterns. One such pattern—and a personal favorite of mine—is the ability to associate temporal cues with available food. For example, the stingrays of the infamous Cayman Island beach, Stingray City, have adopted behaviors that are completely antithetical to their wilder, nomadic kin; they’ve, essentially, become “home bodies.” This population of Southern stingrays has now associated the arrival of tourist boats with an impending meal—so they stick around. And, given the fact that the area’s a tourist hot-spot, it’s a guaranteed food source.
But, just to air on the side of caution, maybe take a shower after hearing the Jaws jingle? It’ll some precious water for the sharks and their barbed ilk, any ways.