Saturday, September 15, 2012
Stingrays are always a hit with families – kids and adults – at aquariums around the country. This picture was taken at the Georgia Aquarium at their huge whale shark tank. Trust me, its worth a trip to Atlanta.
This summer, I visited the Texas State Aquarium for the first time. They have a big touch tank where you can touch the fish and feed them. A few dollars gets you a tray of silversides, small fish that make a great stingray snack.
I love visiting aquariums. I learn something new every time.
Like sharks, stingrays are fish made of cartilage – the same material as your earlobes and the tip of your nose. Their skin is covered in a layer of mucus that protects the stingrays from bacteria. This is why they feel a little slimy if you happen to touch one in an aquarium touch tank.
Stingrays get their name because of the barbs on their tails. The barbs are made from keratin, the same material as you hair and fingernails. They are covered in a toxin and can cause a painful wound.
These fish aren’t aggressive but they enjoy warm shallow water just like we do. They are also very good at camouflaging themselves in the sand. One way to take extra care is to do the “stingray shuffle” when you’re enjoying the beach. Instead of taking steps in the water, shuffle your feet back and forth in the sand as you move. The movement will scare the stingrays away and you both can enjoy your day at the beach.
On the rare chance you do step on a stingray, don’t pull out the barb! Run the area under hot water, as hot as you can stand. The heat will help denature the toxin. A doctor should remove the barb. Even if the barb is not intact, the wounds are easily infected because of the toxins and you might need antibiotics. Take a trip to the hospital to be safe.
Learn more about the stingrays of the Texas State Aquarium. They have Atlantic stingrays, southern stingrays, and cownose rays in the touch tank and a colorful electric ray inside the aquarium.
Learn more about skates and rays in general at the FloridaMuseum of Natural History or head over to Animal Planet.
Photos and video by Sara K. MacSorley