Southern stingrays are related to sharks and skates. This stingray belongs to the Family Dasyatidae, which includes 70 species of stingrays. There are only nine other species in the same genus, including the red stingray and roughtail stingray.
Southern stingrays have flat, diamond-shaped bodies with indistinct heads. They are gray to dark brown in color, with pale bellies. Male southern rays are 2-3 feet across. Females are 4 feet across. The tail can be twice as long as the body.
Southern rays can be found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, down the coast to southeastern Brazil. They make their home in shallow coastal waters to a depth of 180 feet and prefer lagoon or coral reef habitats where there are sandy bottoms and seagrass beds.
They feed on shellfish, worms, shrimp, crabs and small fish along the sandy ocean bottom. To locate their food, they use electroreceptors on their snouts as well as their excellent senses of smell and touch. Then they uncover prey by blowing water out through their mouth and flapping their "wings" over the sand.
Other species of fish are known to follow the southern stingrays as they feed because they stir up extra bits of food as they go.
Stingrays are known for their stingers, but they are actually very docile creatures. When not feeding, southern stingrays bury themselves in the sand with only their eyes and spiracles visible. They can be found individually, in pairs, or in loose groups. If threatened, they can raise their tails like a scorpion and stab predators with their venomous barb. However, they are more likely to swim away from predators.
These stingrays are known to visit "cleaning stations" where smaller fish such as the bluehead wrasse or Spanish hogfish will pick and eat parasites and mucus off of their bodies.
Large fish, including lemon and hammerhead sharks, will prey on southern stingrays.