Eagle Ray

Last updated: November 21, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

Eagle rays are massive bottom feeding fish that can weigh as much as 500 lbs!

Eagle Ray Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Chondrichthyes
Order
Myliobatiformes
Family
Myliobatidae
Genus
Aetomylaesus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Eagle Ray Conservation Status

Eagle Ray Locations

Eagle Ray Locations

Eagle Ray Facts

Prey
Crustaceans and mollusks
Name Of Young
pups
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • School
Fun Fact
Eagle rays are massive bottom feeding fish that can weigh as much as 500 lbs!
Biggest Threat
Ocean floor trawling
Most Distinctive Feature
Long tail with a venomous stinger
Wingspan
up to 9.5 feet
Incubation Period
Around 1 year
Age Of Independence
2-4 weeks
Litter Size
2-4
Predators
Sharks
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • School
Number Of Species
24
Slogan
Majestic underwater bird like fish
Group
school

Eagle Ray Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Smooth
Age of Sexual Maturity
4-6 years
Venomous
Yes
Aggression
Low

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Eagle rays are massive fish belonging to the same family as stingrays and live as long as 25 years!

Conservation Status

Most species are Near Threatened. 

Some species have different conservation categories such as:

  • Spotted Eagle Ray – Endangered
  • Pacific Eagle Ray – Vulnerable
  • Purple Eagle Ray – Critically Endangered

Eagle Ray Summary

The eagle rays are a group of fish that belong to the Aetomylaeus genus, a relative of the stingray fish. Their most distinguishing trait from other ray fish is their longer tails and rhombus-shaped body. These fish are very large in size. The largest species can get as long as 16 feet! These shallow-water bottom feeders are found in tropical and temperate oceans and seas. They feed on mollusks and crustaceans at the bottom of the sea by crushing their shells with their flat teeth.

5 Incredible Eagle Ray Facts

  • Eagle rays have a barbed stinger that will administer a distinct, potent venom if you are unlucky enough to be stung by one. This sting can cause a bacterial infection.
  • This group of fish can live as long as 25 years.
  • They spend most of their time alone but can occasionally be found in huge schools of up to 100 fish!
  • Unlike other bottom-feeding fish, they do not dive very deep. As a result, you’re likely to run into one just a few feet below the surface of a sea.
  • A baby already has well-developed fins spanning as wide as a size 13 shoe!

Eagle Ray Scientific Name

Aetomylaeus

Eagle rays belong to a family of cartilaginous fish known as Myliobatidae, which consists of various stingrays, eagle rays, and manta rays. The family consists of more than 24 species. They belong to the Aetomylaeus genus, which literally translates to “eagle ray.”

Eagle Ray Appearance

Bat Ray
They are very shy animals that easily scare away when they feel threatened.

©Daleen Loest/Shutterstock.com

They differ slightly in appearance depending on the species, but all have a wide flat body with a long tail. These fish grow very large, with an average length of about 6 feet, including their tail. But, their lengths can vary between 2 to 15 feet from fish to fish, the spotted eagle ray Aetobatus narinari being the largest species.

Males are generally smaller than their female counterparts. They have a wingspan of about 5 to 9 feet. These wing-like fins have triangle-shaped corners, a trait that distinguishes these fish from other stingrays and manta rays in their family. These unique fins allow eagle rays to thrive both in deep water and near the surface, unlike other large fish. 

These fish can weigh up to an astonishing 500 lbs, depending on their habitat and diet.

Eagle rays are shaped like a rhombus, surrounded by broad fins. Their mouths are rounded and extended outwards, allowing them to catch and detect their prey on the bottom of the sea. The tails are about 2 to 3 times longer than their entire body size.

Their jaws are covered in flat teeth, perfect for crushing and grinding their prey’s shells. The different species have different patterns and colors on their body. The patterned backs can be blue, black, or grey in color. Some are completely solid in color, while others have spots that are unique to each kind, much like the human fingerprint.

Eagle Ray Behavior

Eagle rays are very shy animals that easily scare away when they feel threatened. If you encounter them while in the ocean, they may approach you out of curiosity, but it is recommended to move slowly and to never touch or approach them, as they may feel threatened and sting you. 

While most are found alone, these fish will sometimes live in groups called “schools” and swim together. Spotted eagle rays can live in schools as big as 100 individuals!

Eagle Ray Habitat

Eagle rays thrive in the warm tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. While most bottom-feeding fish live in very deep water, these fish live close to the surface of water bodies, anywhere down to 100 feet.

They spend most of their time swimming along the bottom of the sandy ocean floor, feeding on the small ocean life there. They can also be found in shallow coral reefs.

Eagle Ray Diet

Eagle rays are carnivorous fish that feed on mollusks and crustaceans on the ocean floor. They will essentially eat anything in their paths, such as shrimp, oysters, clams, and sea urchins. They use their extended snout to search for food and their broad teeth to crush the hard shells of these animals.

What Do They Eat?

These animals feed on animals smaller than themselves. This can include mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, worms, and more. Their beaks and grinding teeth aid them in fetching their prey.

What Eats Them?

Eagle rays are large fish that can defend themselves effectively with their long stingers. However, they do fall prey to larger carnivores in the ocean. Their predators are generally various shark species, such as great whites, tiger sharks, and hammerhead sharks.

Eagle Ray Predators and Threats

In terms of predation, these fish are eaten by other larger fish, particularly sharks. This includes the great hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks, bull sharks, lemon sharks, and tiger sharks, in particular.

However, the biggest threat to the eagle ray population is the ocean floor trawling that frequently results in these creatures being accidentally caught in fishing nets.

Eagle Ray Reproduction

The male eagle ray chases a female around the water when it’s looking to mate. Once it has caught up with the female, it bites on the female’s wing, indicating that he wishes to copulate. As a response, the female stops swimming. The male then grabs the female’s pectoral fin with his teeth, and the two undergo copulation underwater for about a minute or two. After this, the female lays her eggs. The incubation period of an egg is about a year, and 2-4 pups are born at a time.

Babies

The babies are known as pups and are anywhere from 7-14 inches in body size when they hatch, excluding their tails. They stay with their mothers for a week or two before they begin to swim and feed on their own.

Babies feed on the protein-rich yolk of their eggs before hatching. This results in their well-developed fins when they are born, allowing them to swim soon after birth.

Eagle Ray Lifespan

An eagle ray’s average lifespan is between 20 to 25 years. As they age, they face some common ailments in water bodies. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Epitheliocytis – a condition of the skin and gills and fish due to a bacterial infection.
  • Parasites – parasites might begin to feed under the fish’s gills, causing damage to the scales.
  • Columnaris – A disease that causes lesions on the fish’s back and belly. This is caused if the water is dirty or if the fish is malnourished.
  • Fungal infections

Eagle Ray Population

The exact number around the globe is currently unknown. However, it is known that the trend of their population is downward. The conservation status of most species of eagle rays is Near Threatened. While a few species are endangered or critically endangered. The main reason for their population being in decline is likely due to trawling and widespread overfishing that has caused many untargeted ocean animals to become bycatch, such as dolphins, whales, stingrays, sharks, and more. They also have a slow reproductive cycle, so the population cannot reset quickly.

Eagle Rays in Aquariums

Eagle rays are commonly found in aquariums around the world. You can go visit them in some of the following aquariums in the USA:

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About the Author

I have been a freelance writer for the past 2 years. I have a huge love of animals and I love building my knowledge of animals through research. I love sea creatures in particular, my favorite being the octopus because of their intelligence, and I mean, come on, what's not to love! I have a rescue boxer named Dante who is the friendliest pup a man could ask for.

Eagle Ray FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do eagle rays eat?

Eagle rays are carnivorous animals that feed on small fish, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, and worms.

Are eagle rays show fish?

These fish are found in aquariums quite often. Plus, their rounded snout makes them look very cute. And when swimming in aquariums, they look rather magnificent.

How do eagle rays communicate?

Eagle rays communicate via their electrosensory organs. These animals have a powerful sense of sight and smell, which helps them fetch prey, avoid predators, and communicate with one another. They can also sense any changes in the temperature or pressure of the water around them.

Can eagle rays be kept in aquariums?

Yes, these fish can make good pets, given that you have a large aquarium. These fish are docile and friendly unless provoked or threatened. Nevertheless, considering their current numbers, it isn’t advisable to keep them in captivity.

Are eagle rays and stingrays the same animal?

No, they are not. Eagle rays and stingrays have a very concrete difference: their pectoral fins. The pectoral fish of stingrays have round edges, while those of eagle rays have pointy, triangular edges.

Where can you find eagle rays in the wild?

Eagle rays are found around all over the world but particularly thrive in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Despite being bottom-dwellers, eagle rays like to stay closer to the coastal areas.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Oceana, Available here: https://oceana.org/marine-life/spotted-eagle-ray/
  2. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/eagle-ray

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