Rio History: Atlantic Stingray

Special to the PRESS

One of the most common hazards that can be easily avoided on the beaches of Padre Island is stingrays. The biggest problem with them is you can not see them because they bury themselves in the sand. We locals have learned how to do the “Padre shuffle” as we enter the water shuffling our feet along the bottom. Stingrays are generally docile and will move away or circle around if you accidentally nudge one; it’s just when you step on them that they will react.

The barb, or spine which is located about halfway down its tail, is lined with razor sharp serrations. The stingray has the ability to whip its tail up over its back and strike a victim. In some instances it can whip its tail around a victim to exert a more powerful blow. Although most injuries to humans occur on the feet, if stung in the chest area, a heart attack is possible. When a stingray strikes, it either removes its barb entirely, or breaks it off inside of the victim. In cases where the barb breaks off it is necessary to visit a doctor. If any of the barb remains imbedded in the flesh it will cause a sever infection.

Never underestimate the penetrating ability of a stingray’s barb; even on the smallest of rays the barb will penetrate virtually all sorts of dense materials, including wood and leather. It’s even been documented that large stingrays are able to drive a barb through a boat’s wooden planks or completely through a persons arm or leg.

The Atlantic stingray or Dasyatis Sabina which is common along Padre Island, is small, seldom reaching a size greater than 2 feet or a weight over 11 lbs. They are often found swimming about in sea grass beds or shallow lagoons; leisurely dining on worms and small clams, all the while enjoying a good cleaning by parasitic fish like the hogfish. One species of stingray, the Thornback, takes cleanliness a step further. It actually pushes its stomach out through its mouth, exposing the inner lining.  Then, with a quick side to side writhing movement of its head, cleanses any indigestible remains. Just as quickly, the stomach is returned to its proper place, ready for the stingray’s next meal.  Strange as it sounds, this process is used by some shark, frog and toad species as well.

Just think of all the foods and beverages humans could over-indulge in if we were capable of mimicking this behavior. Of course, the idea of watching our dining companions casually turning their stomach inside out and snapping it about like a dirty carpet, might take some getting used to.

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