Stingray Barbs and the dangers posed by Stingrays   2 comments

Steve Irwin’s sad death has generated hundreds of emails to Elasmodiver requesting information about stingrays and stingray barbs. Rather than try to answer them all individually I have created a page that covers most of the questions that people have been asking:

What do Stingray use their barbs for?
Stingrays use their barbs (also known as tail stings or tail spines) as defensive weapons to protect themselves from sharks and other predators. However, rather than risk potentially dangerous confrontations they generally swim away when approached by divers or other large animals. Using their barbs to attack is definitely a last resort.

Do Stingrays use their barbs when feeding?
They do not use their barbs to kill their food because their diet generally consists of invertebrates that live under the sand or mud. They dig in the sand and suck up their lunch sometimes crushing it between their flat, plate-like rows of teeth.

How exactly does a stingray use its barb?
The Stingray jabs forwards with its tail held over its head like a scorpion. Threat displays have been witnessed in which a stingray held its tail aloft while it was receiving close attention from a shark. Great hammerheads (a major predator of stingrays) have been found with as many as fifty spines lodged in their throats.

What is a stingray’s barb made of?
Stingray skin is covered partially in dermal denticles (literally ‘skin teeth’) that contain dentine just like normal teeth. They look like short pointed spikes when viewed under a microscope. The ray’s tail spines are modified dermal denticles that have become elongated so that the can be used as defensive weapons.

Are stingray barbs poisonous?
The Stingray’s barb is covered in a mildly venomous sheath of skin. When the barb is pushed into a foreign body the venom is released. The venom is a protein-based toxin that causes a lot of pain in the area of the wound and may also alter the heart rate and affect the respiration in a victim.


How do you treat a wound from a stingray barb?
The wound should be immersed in the warmest water that the victim can stand. This will immediately start to break down the toxins and alleviate much of the pain. Once the pain has been brought under control the wound should be irrigated to ensure that no fragments from the stingray barb remain. Secondary infection is common and a physician may recommend antibiotics to avoid complications.


What happens to the Stingray after it loses its tail spine?
If the stingray loses one of its barbs while defending itself, it immediately begins to grow a new one. Stingrays shed and re-grow their spines on a regular basis regardless of whether they use them.


How many spines do stingrays have?
Depending on the species, stingrays may have up to 7 or more spines although most have one or two.


What types of rays have tail barbs?
Families of rays that possess tail spines include Whiptail Stingrays, Round Stingrays, River Stingrays, Eagle Rays, Cownose Rays, and Mobula Rays.


How common are injuries and deaths from stingray barbs?
Very rare! There are very few records of stingrays killing humans and when these cases do occur the actual cause of death is usually secondary infection not the wound itself. The most common victims are beach and river fishermen and others who spend a lot of time wading in shallow water. Stingrays are greatly feared in the Amazon River where stingray wounds are relatively common and expert medical attention may be difficult to get.


How can you avoid being wounded by a stingray?
Again, the chances of a beachgoer being stung are very small but there are a few things that you can do to lessen the chances even further. Stingrays attack when they are pinned down and unable to swim away. If you shuffle your feet instead of taking raised steps you are less likely to trap any stingrays that are lying buried under the sand.


Divers should avoid cornering rays (or any dangerous animals) against the reef or swimming directly over them as this could be perceived as a threat.

Stingrays need protecting!
Since the tragic incident with Steve Irwin there have been reports of reprisals against stingrays involving fishermen cutting off their tails and leaving them to die. Not only is this practice barbaric, if it gets out of control it will upset the balance of the environment. Stingrays (like sharks) play an important role in keeping the numbers of invertebrate animals in check. If the rays are wiped out from a particular area the entire localized ecosystem will begin to change. Imagine what a plague of snails could do to a reef if there were no stingrays to keep their numbers down.

Stingrays have a right to defend themselves but they are generally gentle and timid. They are extremely graceful creatures that appear to ‘fly’ through the water like giant birds and the world would be a lesser place without them.

Andy Murch

Host of a web based field guide containing shark and ray information and thousands of pictures of sharks and rays.


For more information on Stingrays visit the following pages:

Whiptail Stingray Information

River Stingray Information

Elasmodiver Shark and Ray Field Guide


Posted October 3, 2006 by Andy Murch in Environment, Nature, Sharks, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Stingray Barbs and the dangers posed by Stingrays

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  1. If you see several positive reviews for , you probably need to ignore that one.

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