If you ever spend any time in the waters of the Atlantic Coast and sometimes even parts of the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico, then you might wonder about the creatures that inhabit those waters and if they are dangerous. In particular, do you know about the southern stingray? Do you know if it is dangerous? The short answer is, not very. It can mildly wound you, but the damage is unlikely to be severe, permanent, or fatal.
The southern stingray is one of moderate size and is considered a whiptail stingray. Its native zone is the western side of the Atlantic Ocean. As compared to spotted eagle rays, this stingray prefers to spend its time usually in contact with the actual seafloor. It’s often buried in the soft sediment, so only its large eyes are uncovered. The mouth of the southern stingray is on the ventral side of the head, and it makes use of an electric sense ability in order to locate numerous fish and invertebrate prey. It does seem to prefer crabs, shrimps, and crustaceans of various species.
The southern stingray gets oxygen from water through the use of gills, like all fish. However, given its habitual burying of the mouth in sediment means that water has an obstacle in passing into its gill cavity from the mouth. As an alternative, southern stingrays have specialized openings on the top of the head known as spiracles. It uses these to pump water in from behind the eyes, and you can easily notice these in live specimens and many photographs.
Southern stingrays have a natural defense mechanism from birth, which is a sharp and serrated barb that’s attached at their tail’s base. They use this against anything they consider a predator. If a human steps on them, which is often the only way people make physical contact with southern stingrays that proves dangerous, then the barb might lash out and contact the person’s flesh. Feet, ankle, and lower leg wounds are the most common, and sometimes quite nasty. A common question is “has anyone every been stung at Stingray City?”. The answer is yes but it’s unlikely to happen to you.
However, timely medical care can prevent long-term complications. In most all other circumstances, southern stingrays aren’t that dangerous, since the ocean floor is not someplace many people go. If you have a chance to swim with or even touch stingrays, such as a cruise ship excursion or coastal adventure, then you’re probably going to have a good time without any worry.