Skate Fish Vs Stingray: 4 Key Differences Explained

Written by Hannah Ward
Updated: November 5, 2022
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Skate fish and stingrays are both cartilaginous fish that are found all around the world and are often confused for one another.  It’s certainly an easy mistake to make as they are both flat and diamond-shaped with gills and mouths on the underside of their bodies.  They’re also both bottom dwellers who like to camouflage themselves by burying themselves in the mud and sand.  So, considering how alike they are, is it actually possible to tell them apart? Are there any differences between a skate vs stingray? The answer is yes, and there are actually quite a few key differences between them.

Join us as we discover all of the key differences between skate fish and stingrays.

Comparing Skate Fish Vs Stingray

Skate fish and sting rays have different tails, fins, teeth, and mode of reproduction.

Skate fish and stingrays are both cartilaginous fish which means they have a skeleton that is made from cartilage rather than bone.  Cartilaginous fish belong to the class Chondrichthyes and both skate fish and stingrays belong to the subclass Elasmobranchii which includes all sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish.  There are currently around 200 species of stingray in the oceans today and more than 200 species of skate fish.  However, as well as the differences that we can’t see, there are quite a few that we can.

Check out the chart below to learn a few of the main differences between skate vs stingray.

StingraySkate Fish
HabitatTypically warm, shallow coastal watersFrom tropical to the Arctic waters down to depths greater than 9,000 feet
SizeUp to 16 feet longUp to 8 feet long
ColorVaries widelyTypically brown or grey
TailLong and thin with a long stingerThick and fleshy. No stinger but has spikes on the top
Pelvic FinsOne lobeTwo lobes
Dorsal FinAbsent or vestigialSmall but distinct
TeethFlattened plateSmall and pointed
DietCrustaceans, shrimp, worms, clamsCrustaceans, clams, shrimp, worms, small fish
PredatorsSharks, seals, sea lions, large fishSharks, rays, seals, other skates
Lifespan15 – 25 yearsUp to 50 years

The 4 Key Differences Between Skate Fish and Stingrays

Even though both are cartilaginous fish, there are vital differences between a skate fish and a stingray. For a start, stingrays are dangerous while the other is relatively harmless. A skatefish tail is typically much thicker and shorter than a stingray’s tail.  They also have different teeth and even reproduce and give birth in completely different ways.  But that’s not all there is to learn about these fascinating fish.

Let’s explore the differences between a skate vs stingray in detail.

Skate Fish vs Stingray: Tail

Darkspotted Stingray (Himantura uarnak)

Stingrays are bottom dwellers and have long, venomous barbs on their tail

©Rich Carey/

The most noticeable difference between skate fish and stingrays is their tails.  Stingrays have a long whip-like tail which has a long barb, or stinger, on it which is where they get their name from.  The barb on the end of a stingray’s tail is incredibly venomous and it is their defense mechanism.  As it is venomous it means that a sting from a stingray is often fatal for us humans.

Skate fish have a much thicker tail which is often shorter than that of a stingray.  Skate fish do not have a venomous barb on their tail.  However, they do still have a method of protecting themselves as they have a row of sharp spikes or thorns that run up their tail and the center of their back.

Skate Fish vs Stingray: Fins

Stingrays and skate fish also have slightly different fins.  Skate fish have pelvic fins that are divided into two lobes and a small but very distinct dorsal fin.  Stingrays have only one lobe on their pelvic fins and the dorsal fin is mostly absent, or extremely small and difficult to see even when it is present.

Skate Fish vs Stingray: Teeth

Another difference between skate fish and stingrays is their teeth.  Although stingray teeth might not look like teeth in the traditional sense, they have definitely got some.  Stingrays have teeth that look like flattened plates.  They are made from modified placoid scales, which are also known as dermal denticles.  Incredibly, these dermal denticles are actually the same sort of scales that cover a shark’s body.  

Not only that, but stingrays also constantly replace their teeth, just like sharks do.  Their new teeth develop behind the existing teeth and are ready to move forward as soon as they are needed, which means they never run out of teeth.  Stingrays eat a range of crustaceans, shrimp, worms, and clams.

Skate fish are completely different and have tiny, pointed teeth which they use to eat crustaceans, clams, shrimp, worms, and small to medium-sized fish.

Skate Fish vs Stingray: Reproduction

Stingrays and skate fish also reproduce in vastly different ways.  Stingrays are viviparous which means that they give birth to live young (known as pups) which are fully formed.

Skate fish are oviparous which means that they lay eggs.  Skate fish produce egg cases which are known as a “mermaid’s purse”.  These are extremely unusual as they look like black rectangles with arm-like extensions from each corner.  Each egg case is unique to the species of skate fish which laid it, and they hatch after around 12 weeks.

Skate fish lay eggs which are encased in cases known as mermaid’s purses

©A Cotton Photo/

FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are stingrays and skate fish from the same order?

No, although they are both cartilaginous fish, they are from different orders.  Skate fish are members of the Rajiformes class whose members are distinguished by their enlarged pectoral fins.  Stingrays are members of the order Myliobatiformes.  Members of this order were originally classified as Rajiformes before being classed as a separate group.

Are stingrays and skate fish the same shape?

Although there is some variation between different species, generally skate fish are more triangular or rounded than stingrays which are more diamond-shaped.  Skates also tend to have a more pointed nose.

Are skate fish dangerous?

Although the spikes on their tail and back can make them a little difficult to handle, skate fish are not dangerous if you encounter them.

Are stingrays dangerous?

Despite having such a lethal barb on the end of their tail, stingrays are actually relatively peaceful animals.  However, they become dangerous when they are disturbed or stepped on which is when they sting as a defense mechanism.  Although painful their venom really designed to kill small creatures rather than larger ones, but in some cases fatalities do happen.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Richard Whitcombe/

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About the Author

Hannah is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, marine life, mammals, and geography. Hannah has been writing and researching animals for four years alongside running her family farm. A resident of the UK, Hannah loves riding horses and creating short stories.

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