Once the bad-boys of the marine world, cownose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) are making a comeback! Famous for the large schools these rays form while migrating, they almost look like underwater kites, with their wing-like pectoral fins allowing them to fly underwater. A copper-brown color above gives way to a creamy tummy which extends to a tail that has a small, barbed spine (surprised- it’s poisonous).
They have an indented head and something a little different underneath the hood. #Finfact: They have a specialised fin beneath their head that divides into two, short round lobes. What do these lobes do? Guide food into their mouth! No, seriously. Their prey selection includes bottom-dwelling fish, crabs, lobsters and marine mollusc. Their plate-like teeth are great for crushing these animals; and these rays are also prey for other animals, too! Animals like the cobia (Rachycentron canadum), sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) and bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) like to eat these flat flap-flaps.
You can find these rays in the warm temperate and tropical waters of the western Atlantic, from the coast of southern New England all the way down to southern Brazil. If you live in or near the Chesapeake Bay, you can especially see them during the summer. Go check them out! After the summer fun, they get down to business (aka breeding) between June through October. In general, the cownose ray gives birth to a single pup.
Now we talked about migrations- just where are they going? And how big are these schools? I’m talking thousands of individuals. And they move up north in late Spring and south in late Autumn. How do they know when to go? One theory is that it’s initiated by the orientation of the sun and by water temperature. Cool! Often found in estuaries and bays, which tend to be marine and brackish; they can be observed up to depths of up to 22 metres. The IUCN has assessed them as Near Threatened (NT). Why? Globally they face heavy (and unregulated) fishing pressure through a large part of its range.
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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