Relatives

Cownose rays are related to sharks and skates. This stingray belongs to the Family Myliobatidae, which includes bat rays, manta rays and eagle rays.

Appearance

Cownose rays get their name from their unique forehead, which resembles the nose of a cow. They are brown to olive-colored on top with no spots, and pale below. Cownose males are about 2½ feet across. Females are 2-3 feet across.The tail is about twice as long as the body. Beach-goers sometimes mistake these rays for sharks. When the rays are swimming near the surface, the tips of the wings sometimes stick out of the water, resembling a shark's dorsal fin.

Habitat

Cownose rays can be found in the Atlantic Ocean along western Africa, the eastern U.S., the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. They are considered an open ocean species, but can inhabit inshore, shallow bays and estuaries. They prefer warm temperate and tropical waters to depths of 72 feet. Many gather in Chesapeake Bay during the summer months.

Feeding

Cownose rays feed on bottom-dwelling shellfish, lobster, crabs and fish. To locate their prey, cownose rays have electroreceptors on their snouts as well as excellent senses of smell and touch. They will stir up the bottom with their flexible wing tips or use their noses to root around in the mud or sand. Once they find their prey, they flap their wings rapidly to move the sand aside.

They suck water and sand into their mouths and blow it out through their gills to create a depression in the sand that allows easier access to their food.

They have very strong teeth arranged in flat plates that are perfect for crunching hard-shelled prey. These rays spit out the shells of the animals they eat, and only swallow the soft body parts.

Behavior

Stingrays are known for their stingers, but they are actually very docile creatures.

Cownose rays school and migrate in large groups, sometimes up to thousands of individuals. They are strong swimmers and can migrate long distances. Scientists believe that the migrations may be triggered by seasonal changes in water temperature and sun orientation.

They have been seen jumping clear out of the water and landing on their bellies, making loud smacking sounds. They don't rest on the bottom as much as other types of stingrays.

Predators

Cobia and a variety of sharks will prey on cownose stingrays. Many sharks have been found with barbs from cownose rays embedded in their heads and jaws.