These rays are easily distinguished from its family members by its black skin tone with white spots (they have a white belly, too). Current research is debating on whether this one species is actually numerous species! (This research may be on identifying spots on the rays, like whale sharks, and DNA.)
The recorded maximum weight of these rays is 230 kg (to Americans, that’s around 507 lbs… yeah, let that sink in for a second); they can get up to 9 meters (29.5 ft) in total length with a disc length of around 3.5 meters (11.5 ft).
Also similar to the cownose ray, spotted eagle rays feed on crabs, but they truly delight in bivalves. They are known to nom-nom on shrimp, octopus, worms, whelks and small fishes, too.
They're a pretty cosmopolitan animal, as you can tell by the range map to the left.
Picture credit: Cathleen Bester.
And, we can’t forget to mention that they also have a long tail! It’s a whip-like tail that has a spine near the base of it. The tail spines are poisonous, like in most rays. Yet, humans are rarely, if ever (I’ve never seen a record of someone being stung by a spotted eagle ray), stung by the spine. They are generally shy of humans, and tend to avoid human contact.
However, there are a few deaths caused by spotted eagle rays.
“Wait, what? How?!”
Remember that sheer beauty? Yeah, not to pretty when it’s hurtling out of the water and into your face. These rays have the habit of leaping out of the water… and sometimes they jump right into your boat.
I kid you not.
“Okay, just because one news channel said it, doesn’t make it true.”
Oh wait, it’s the same story, from another channel.
It doesn't always end in death though.
But what a way to go. I mean, these guys even strike in Michigan. Don’t ask me how they got up there, I have no idea. I feel like this isn’t a ray one would mix up.
Spotted eagle rays, like other rays, often fall victim to sharks (e.g. tiger shark, lemon shark, great hammerhead shark, etc.). This ray is taken as bycatch in much of its range in tropical and warm temperate seas. In the US, Florida outlaws the fishing, landing, purchasing and trading of this species.
A beautiful animal that is usually overlooked and under-appreciated!
Tune in tomorrow for our next spotlighted fellow, the cute yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis).