The Fins United Initiative is excited to bring back the loved "Underrated Elasmobranch Spotlight" series through TFUI officer Jess Myers. Learn about the Chondrichthyans not shown on the big screen through her beautiful artwork!
Today’s underrated elasmobranch is an oddly shaped stingray known as the spiny butterfly ray (Gymnura altavela). Because of their distinct shape, all 12 species of butterfly rays are categorized into the family Gymnuridae, which is Greek for “naked tail.” This name is fitting when you look at how short their tails are in comparison to their long pectoral fins.
Butterfly rays live in salty and sometimes even brackish waters. The spiny butterfly ray can be found along the eastern coasts of North and South America as well as the west coasts of Europe and Africa, including the Mediterranean and Black Seas. They feed on small invertebrates and fish they find along the sandy bottom.
Before we cover the next bit, take a second to remember what makes a mammal a mammal… they have hair, breathe air, give live birth, and produce milk for their young to drink. We don’t typically think of any of these traits applying to fish. Now I am not bringing this up to say that stingrays are mammals, because they are most definitely not. However, they DO produce a uterine milk that the stingray pups drink while they’re growing. Unlike mammals, the milk is consumed while the baby rays are still in the uterus. Some shark species do this as well. Who knew – fish with milk!
Spiny butterfly rays usually grow to 2 meters (~6 feet) across, but their maximum size is not known. They can be distinguished from other butterfly rays by the spine at the base of their tail and a special structure around their spiracles. These rays are captured for meat and considered Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (2007).
Reference image and information from FishBase.
WHAT UNDERRATED CHONDRICHTHYAN DO YOU THINK SHARK WEEK SHOULD SHOWCASE?
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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