Elms Environmental Education Center

Welcome to Planet Earth

June 2016: Cownose Ray


Photo: © Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Cownose Ray
Rhinoptera bonasu

Who am I?

 Am I a shark? People think I am when they see my fin sticking out of the water and they are afraid. Am I a voracious oyster eater -- killing all the young oysters that are trying to repopulate the Chesapeake or decimating the harvest of oyster growers? Maybe. I will eat oysters, but then I am older than humans and have always eaten oysters. Still, people hate me for this. Am I a vicious stingray like my cousins, like the one that killed that famous exuberant Australian guy? Absolutely not! I am, mostly, harmless to humans. I have a poisonous barb at the base of my tail that can be very painful if you step on it but other than I leave people alone.

In any case, I can get pretty big -- about 4 feet across my fins. I can get pretty heavy too, about 50 pounds. I am much bigger than the little skates that look like miniature versions of me. I can be easily identified by my wide head and "cownose" like appearance. Look for me swimming around in the shallow water.

I only have one baby a year. She hatches out inside me, eats her egg and then I send her nutrients while she is growing. After a year or so she will be born alive. I will give birth sometime during the month of June. 

Where can you find me? 

 I can be found all along the east coast of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico. I am only present in the Chesapeake from around mid-May to October. When the water gets too cold I will head south.

What do I eat?

 I eat mostly shellfish -- clams, mussels, oysters whelks, crabs. I use my wings to uncover the buried clams and then suck them up and crush them.

What might eat me?

 Sharks. Sharks. Sharks. Oh, and cobia.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • A baby ray is called a "pup".
  • Sharks and Rays are closely related with sharks having gill slits on the side of their heads and rays having gill slits below their heads.
  • Cownose rays are mostly harmless to humans, though like most wild animals are best left alone.

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