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Spotted Eagle Ray

Sea Wonder: Spotted Eagle Ray

What are Spotted Eagle Rays and what do they look like?

If you find yourself snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of Key West and the Florida Keys, keep an eye out for the notorious spotted eagle ray. Part of the elasmobranch family, these ray creatures go by various comical names like Bishop ray, Bonnet skate, and Duckbill ray. But don’t let their amusing aliases fool you; they’re the second largest eagle ray in the ocean and they mean business.


With their dark blue backs adorned in pearly, green, or light blue spots, spotted eagle rays certainly know how to make a fashion statement. Their diamond-shaped bodies and tails armed with short stinging spines give them an edgy look, as if they’re ready to join a punk rock band. But don’t let their rebellious appearances fool you; they’re actually quite docile towards snorkelers and divers. Well, unless you’re a diver, then they become as wary as a cat avoiding a bath.


These rays are masters of disguise, with their unique white spotted pattern on their bodies providing the ultimate camouflage. It’s like they attended a fashion show and came away with the latest trend in underwater couture. And let’s not forget about their venomous barbs on their tails for self-defense. It’s like they took a page out of the playbook of a Bond villain. But don’t worry, as long as you don’t provoke them, they’ll stick to their day jobs of crushing and eating prey with their plate-like teeth. 

Oh, and did I mention they have the ability to jump out of the water? It’s like they’re auditioning for the next Olympic sport. So, if you’re lucky enough to spot one of these spotted eagle rays during your aquatic adventures, be sure to give them a nod of respect for their style, their self-defense game, and their potential to be the next high dive champion.

Spotted Eagle Ray in Key West

Diet and Habitat

Ah, the diet and habitat of this magnificent creature, the Spotted Eagle Ray. Now, don’t be fooled by its name; this fella isn’t soaring through the skies or perching on branches. No, no, this Spotted Eagle Ray prefers the finer things in life – benthic animals along the ocean floor. Clams, oysters, octopus, squid, crabs, shrimp, and even urchins are all on the menu. Occasionally, they’ll indulge in some bony fish, just to mix things up. I mean, who doesn’t love a little surf and turf?

Now, when it comes to location, these Stingrays are quite the globetrotters. You’ll find them in the Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and even some national marine sanctuaries. They’re like the jet-setters of the fish world, always seeking out warmer, open ocean waters near coastlines. And let me tell you, they’ve got impeccable taste. Waters off North Carolina and Florida (U.S.), Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda, all the way down to Brazil – these are their preferred vacation spots. They’re commonly observed in bays and over coral reefs, occasionally taking a dip into estuarine habitats. It’s like they’re on a never-ending quest for the perfect beach selfie.

Now, picture this: a school of Eagle Ray, swimming in open water, minding their own business. Suddenly, danger approaches – maybe a hungry predator or an overzealous tourist with a fishing rod. What does our clever ray do? It leaps completely out of the water, defying gravity like a fishy Superman. I mean, talk about a dramatic exit. It’s like they’re auditioning for a role in “Finding Nemo: The Musical.” 

As for their diet let’s not forget their unique set of tools. With a shovel-shaped snout and a duck-like bill, these fish are equipped for some serious mud-digging action. They crush their prey with plate-like teeth and use papillae in their mouths to separate shells from flesh. It’s like they’ve got their own built-in seafood restaurant, no reservations required. And trust me, their stomach contents are always Instagram-worthy, with intact prey items and no remnants of shells. It’s like they’ve mastered the art of eating with finesse. Bravo, Spotted Eagle Ray, bravo.


Spotted Eagle Ray

Life History

In the vast and mysterious world of marine creatures, few are as captivating and enigmatic as the rays. These sleek, underwater acrobats are known for their schools, which they navigate with the poise and precision of a synchronized swimming team. They leap out of the water with a flair that would make even the most seasoned Olympic diver green with envy. It’s as if they’re saying, “Look at us, humans! We can fly, too!” Well, sort of.


But don’t be fooled by their graceful appearance, for these rays are not just pretty faces with fins. They have a cunning reproductive strategy that would make any secret agent proud. You see, these creatures engage in internal fertilization, which means they don’t rely on any romantic candlelit dinners or love songs to procreate. No, they prefer a more discreet approach, keeping their love affairs strictly under wraps. And when it comes time to give birth, they don’t lay eggs like most fish. Oh no, these rays are ovoviviparous, which is just a fancy way of saying they give birth to live pups. Talk about a unique delivery room experience!



Where to Find Spotted Eagle Rays in Key West?

Now, as fascinating as these rays may be, studying them can be as elusive as trying to catch a greased pig at a county fair. They’re like the Houdinis of the ocean, disappearing into the depths with a flick of their tail whenever they sense a researcher approaching. It’s like they have a sixth sense, knowing exactly when to make themselves scarce. And with their migration patterns, they’re constantly on the move, making it even trickier to keep tabs on them. They arrive in the Florida Keys in May, just in time for summer fun, and then bid farewell by September, heading south towards the Caribbean like snowbirds escaping the cold. It’s a journey that takes them through open waters, where they can be found swimming in schools or enjoying some solo time. But make no mistake, their migration is driven by more than just a desire for a change of scenery. These rays are on a mission, a mission to find their next meal. And who can blame them? We all know the lengths we’d go to for a good slice of pizza.

Spotted Eagle Ray at Shipwreck

Threats and Conservation

Unfortunately, even underwater celebrities like the spotted eagle ray have their fair share of haters. Considered a near-threatened species by the IUCN, these rays face dangers from accidental bycatch and being targeted for their oils in nutritional supplements and alternative medicines. It’s like being a target for paparazzi and snake oil salesmen all at once. On top of that, habitat degradation, overfishing, ocean acidification, pollution, and climate change are all taking a toll on their populations. It’s a tough world out there, even for rays with impeccable fashion sense.


Conservation efforts are crucial to ensure the survival of these remarkable creatures. While they may not be endangered yet, it’s important to protect their habitats and raise awareness about their declining populations. Let’s be the bodyguards of the sea, protecting the spotted eagle ray like they’re the Kardashians of the ocean. Because if we don’t, who will?


So next time you find yourself in the Florida Keys, keep an eye out for these spotted wonders. Just remember, they may be docile towards snorkelers and divers, but they’re a bit wary of us humans. Approach with caution, and who knows, you might just witness a ray of sunshine in the water – the spotted eagle ray, the true superstar of the sea.

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