home.gif (921 bytes)Stingrays

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May 21, 1998. We went to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. I got stung by a stingray. 6 hours of incredible pain. Ouch!

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If a venomous ray stings your arm or leg, you will probably live, but if your abdomen is injured by a venomous ray, your chances of surviving are not as good. In one case, a 12-year-old Mexican boy who was loading shrimp was stung in his abdomen by a stingray. He died in less than 2 hours. The venom from a ray causes your heart to stop beating or to beat irregularly. It also affects your breathing and central nervous system.

What You Should Do

Never walk barefoot in a sandy or muddy area where rays are likely to occur. Don't dive headfirst into water in such areas. If you are skin diving, don't swim in a prone (lying-down) position close to the bottom. If you are injured by a ray you should get expert medical help as quickly as possible. In the meantime:

1. Rinse the wound thoroughly with fresh water. Use ocean water only if no fresh water is available.

2. Cover the wound in water that is as hot as you can tolerate but not so hot that it burns your skin (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit or 44 degrees Celsius). This should ease the pain within about 30 to 90 minutes. You can repeat this if the pain comes back.

3. Carefully search for and remove any pieces of the stinger or its sheath (protective covering). Scrub the injured area with soap and water. Then pour lots of fresh water over it.

4. Do not tape or sew the wound closed unless this is needed to stop a lot of bleeding.

5. If the wound shows signs of infection, you will need to take antibiotics. You may also need a tetanus shot.

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There are many different kinds of rays. These broad, flat creatures have a whip-like tail that is usually much longer than the body. Along the top of the tail is a hardened spine which the ray uses to defend itself. Fortunately for us, only two families of rays have venomous spines. However, even if it is not venomous, a ray's spine can cause serious injuries. Large rays are able to drive a spine through a boat's wooden planks or completely through a person's arm or leg. Rays also have powerful teeth which they use to crush the shells of clams and other shellfish that they eat. In some cases, if a ray loses the glands containing its venom, the venom is not replaced. In other rays, the venom glands are replaced regularly. The larger and older a stingray is, the greater chance there is that the ray has lost its venom (in one study, about 45% of California round rays had lost their venom glands).

Rays vary in size and live in many parts of the world. Most live in tropical areas, but a few species live in temperate or even cold waters. One of the two venomous families prefers shallow water that is less than 350 feet deep. Most rays swim near the bottom of the ocean where they find shellfish and other food. The largest rays are the Australian stingrays, which measure 6 to 7 feet across the wings and weigh as much as 750 pounds. In contrast, the much smaller round rays are about 12 inches across the wings and weigh about 1.5 pounds as adults. Female rays are usually bigger than males of the same species. The number of young that a mother ray gives birth to depends on her size and her age. For example, a stingray that weighs 60 pounds may give birth to 6 young, whereas a 140-pound ray could have at least 10 or 12 young. The baby rays are born tail first, with their wings rolled up. Their poison spine is rubbery and has a protective covering so that the mother is not stung while giving birth. Within a few days, the ray's spine hardens. Young rays are able to swim as gracefully as adults as soon as they are born.

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