Stingrays are members of the group of fish that also includes sharks and skates. Sharks and rays have skeletons made of flexible cartilage instead of bone. What makes rays unusual is that their wing-like fins stretch out flat from their bodies, making them look like a disc with a tail.

Fins and Stingers

The fins on the side of a stingray's body act like wings to help it "fly" gracefully through the water. Many stingrays have sharp, venomous spines along their whip-like tail. They can defend themselves by lashing their tails out if threatened by a shark or other predator. At the Zoo, keepers trim the spines much like trimming fingernails, so the stingrays in this exhibit are safe to touch. Wild stingrays don't get manicures, so beach-goers should avoid stepping on these animals in the ocean.

Eyes and Mouth

A stingray's eyes are perched on the top of its flat body. This helps it keep a lookout, even when the rest of its body is buried in the sand. The stingray's mouth is located underneath its body - a good adaptation for feeding on ocean bottom dwellers like crabs, clams and shrimp.

Gills and Spiracles

Like other fish, stingrays breathe with the help of gills. They have a row of five gill slits on the underside of their bodies. Besides gills, stingrays have an extra adaptation to help them breathe while resting on the bottom of the ocean. These additional openings, which are near their eyes, are called spiracles. Instead of sucking sandy water in through their gills, they can pull clear water in through the spiracles and then force it out through the gills.