By Beth Alexander
The bluespotted stingray, whether you’ve seen one up close on a dive or in films and TV documentaries, is one of the sea’s most easily identifiable creatures. But other than their ability to fly like a bird underwater and become masters of camouflage on the reef, how much do we really know about this creature?
Taeniura lymma, or bluespotted ribbontail stingray as it is most commonly known, is a favorite for many divers, but don’t let the bluespotted ray fool you with its cute looks, its large yellow eyes peeping upwards from its oval-shaped body and angular front snout. Not mere decoration, those bright blue spots are meant to warn off predators and indicate that it’s venomous. The ray’s short tail, a little less than twice its body length, features blue stripes running along either side, and towards the end it features a stinging spine. It’s this feature that transforms this animal from an initial impression of a cute little ray to a fierce predator of the sea.
The bluespotted ray is primarily found in the Indo-Western Pacific region, and lives in depths of up to around 65 feet (20 m) across sandy and rocky sections of the reef. They are quite private creatures and prefer to live alone or in small groups. They congregate in large numbers only when it comes to feeding. They move into shallow, sandy areas on the rising tide and then fall back into their hiding spots under a rock when the tide falls.
They feed mainly on small fish, crabs, shrimps and mollusks, which is nothing unusual for a creature of the ocean; the way they hunt prey is, however, unique to the bluespotted ray. The animal uses a technique called electroreception, which is a way of detecting and sensing electrical fields produced by their prey. Similar to bats using echolocation on land, bluespotted rays use electroreception underwater.
Reproduction is another distinct feature of the bluespotted stingray, with males using their sensitive noses to detect a chemical signal emitted by a female. The reproduction is then ovoviviparous, meaning that females give birth to live pups that have hatched from egg cases inside the uterus. Up to seven pups can be born into a litter and each one is born with the distinctive blue markings of its parents.
So, the next time you come across a bluespotted stingray hiding away in a crevice on the reef, know that there’s more than meets the eye with this creature, and it’s far more complex than its outward appearance.