The spiny butterfly ray (Gymnura altavela) may also be referred to as the giant butterfly ray in the literature and by now you may have guessed it is a species of butterfly ray! Their family is called “Gymnuridae.” They are native to the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, preferring tropical and warm-temperate shallows. A rather uncommon ray, individuals can often be seen segregating by sex with females staying in deeper water and migrating inshore to breed when the time is right.
An active predator, what they eat depends on where they are. For example, in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean their diet largely consists of fishes, small sharks, and squids. In Tunisia, they feast upon crustaceans, fish, cephalopods, lamellibranchs, and gastropods. According to reports, these rays actually stun their prey before devouring it, spinning around over their food of choice and striking it with one of their pectoral fins.
The spiny butterfly is rather large, measuring over 2 m (6 ft 7 in) across and has a spine at the base of their tail. Sporting smooth skin when juveniles and sub-adults, the older they get means they will develop a patch of rough denticles on the center of their disk. They are a dark brown above, and sometimes sport some small light or dark coloured blotches reminiscent of marble; their tummies are white below. Juveniles have what looks to be pale crossbars on their tail. The maximum published weight is about 60 kg (130 lb).
As with many rays, the predator is also prey. Some potential predators include the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and possibly some marine mammals. They are valued for their meat, and have become Critically Endangered in certain parts of their range. Spiny butterfly rays are give birth to live young and have an annual reproductive cycle with their gestation period lasting 4 to 9 months. The IUCN has assessed them as Vulnerable (VU).
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