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SCIENTIFIC NAME: CLASS: CHONDRICHTHYES; SUBCLASS: ELASMOBRANCHII; SUPERORDER: BATIODEA
LOCATION: MOSTLY IN TROPICAL AND SUBTROPICAL COASTAL WATERS, ALTHOUGH A FEW SPECIES LIVE IN DEEPER OPEN SEA, AND A VERY FEW IN BRACKISH, OR FRESHWATER. MOST SPECIES PREFER WARM WATERS AND CORAL REEFS.
RECOGNITION FEATURES: UNIQUE FLAT-BODIES AND LONG TAIL MAKE THESE ANIMALS EASILY RECOGNIZABLE.
One of the most graceful and unique species in the underwater world is the batoideaŚmore commonly known as ray. The term "ray" is a catch-all phrase and includes skates, stingrays, manta rays, butterfly rays, round rays, eagle rays, guitarfish, and many others. In all, there are 500 species that are included in the superorder batoidea.
Rays are boneless animals, whose bodies are supported by a durable and pliable cartilage, much like sharks. In fact, rays are extremely similar genetically to sharks. Like sharks, rays have a unique electrical sensory system they use to detect food and predators. Unlike sharks, who do not move their pectoral fins for propulsion, most rays use these fins (called wings on rays) as their primary means of locomotion. Most rays use these, along with a wave-like motion throughout their bodies for movement. Many species of rays have extremely strong jaws which are used to catch and crush crustaceans, the main source of food for many species. Manta rays, the largest species, are filter feeders who survive on plankton.
Different species have highly developed defense mechanisms. Stingrays and some eagle rays have a long tail containing a toxic substance which is painful to humans and other larger animals, but rarely deadly. The stinging rays are not aggressive, and despite something of a reputation as a dangerous animal, typically will flee from disturbances, rather than attack or even defend themselves. People who are stung by rays typically step directly on the animal, thus provoking the response. Many rays have camouflage patterns which help them to blend in along the ocean floor, and quite a few spend their time covered with sand, quietly resting on the bottom. Electric rays have organs located in their wings, which can produce a shock of up to 200 volts to frighten off would-be attackers. Sharks are the main predator for most species of rays.
Most rays live in shallow, coastal waters and are often found near coral reefs. As manta rays have developed, they have adapted to survive in the open seas (although also living in shallow waters and reefs), and are the largest of all the rays. The largest specimen even recorded was 7.6 meters in width, and weighed in at roughly 3000 kg. Contrasted with one of the smaller species, the rough eagle ray, which typically measure around 80 cm, one can see that the sizes of rays differs greatly between the species.