Did you know there are porcupines in the sea? Specifically porcupine rays, Urogymnus asperrimus, a ray in the family Dasyatidae and one of six species in the genus Urogymnus (along with U. acanthobothrium, U. dalyensis, U. granulatus, U. lobistoma and U. polylepis). A layer of spikes on its back gives it its common name, and it lacks the venomous barb at the beginning of its tail like most other stingray species. It is a rarely seen ray species, so it largely remains a mystery.
The thorns that give this ray its prickly body is a protective armor against predators, which includes hammerhead sharks, bull sharks, orcas and other large fish. And although it lacks the defense of a barb on its tail, the whip-like tail can still pack a punch. This animal is usually a shade of brown or grey with a white belly, while its tail is usually black in colour.
These rays make the Indian Ocean and the Indo-West Pacific waters their home, and seen around East Africa, the Red Sea and some parts of Australia. However, although they frequent shallower waters (such as sandy coral reefs), they are rarely seen. Because of this, their biological and reproductive histories are still not well understood. Porcupine rays forage for crustaceans, marine worms and burrowing fish, equipped with sharp teeth that allow for the breaking of hard shells.
Porcupine ray populations are declining today due to being susceptible to human activity, and the rays have been assessed by the IUCN as Vulnerable (VU).
ever heard of this prickly ray?
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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