Despite their strange, unique shapes and appearance, rays are actually fish; in fact, they are quite similar to certain types of sharks. Batoidea – by their scientific name – feature a characteristic, flattened body and are supported by cartilage instead of bone structures. Their rounded pectoral fins are fused to the rays’ bodies, making them seem like “birds” of the deep, flapping their fins in a manner very similar to birds’ wings, or gliding elegantly through the ocean. Commonly feeding on mollusks and crustaceans, rays are either filter or bottom feeders, and have been found to be extremely efficient hunters.
Their tough, boneless skeleton make batoids quite resilient, while their flat, disk shaped bodies are a common characteristic of all species of rays, except for guitarfishes and sawfishes. Unlike sharks that have streamlined bodies, rays have their pectoral fins extremely well-developed, while the anal fin is absent and the eyes and spiracles are found on the top side of their bodies. Species of rays that live on the bottom of the sea take water in through their spiracles, unlike most fish that breathe through their mouths.
Two of the most well-known types of rays in existence are stingrays and eagle rays. Stingrays are considered to be the most popular species, being easily identified through their long tails and barbed stings. They are also known due to their extremely painful (and sometimes lethal) toxins that they use to defend themselves when they feel threatened. Eagle rays are less known, but not less special; their well-defined rhomboidal bodies and wide range of different sizes making them impressive, as well as beautiful creatures. The most well-known type of eagle ray is the Common Eagle Ray, usually found in places like the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Common eagle rays can sometimes grow to a size of more than 5 feet in length.
Manta rays are among the largest known species of rays in existence. Very similar to stingrays, they can measure up to 25 feet in length, and the most impressive of these magnificent creatures can weigh no less than 3,000 pounds, placing them right up there, at the same level as the most ferocious sharks. In spite of their size, however, manta rays are extremely graceful, and they usually filter feed using their large padded lobes located on either side of their heads. Able to move very quickly and with extreme precision, these ray species have even been found to jump out of the water and flip through the air on occasion.
Rays can be found widely distributed in many different areas of the world. Stingrays, for example, are commonly found on the bottom of the ocean, but some species are known to be free-swimming. These rays are basically everywhere, sometimes being observed even in fresh water areas, while most species are commonly found in all oceans of the world. Other species of rays are more localized, eagle rays featuring different subspecies that dwell in the waters of the Caribbean, Mediterranean or North Sea, while mantas can commonly be found in tropical areas – usually quite close to the Equator.