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Stingray Terminology: Understanding Stingrays

In the course of our work on DragonSkin® Achilles Heels, we’ve learned a lot about stingrays and the terms used to describe them. We’re constantly learning new terms, but wanted to take a step back and capture some of the coolest and the most common terms we’ve come across. 

First off, we wanted to confirm that “Stingray” is officially one word, not spelled like “Sting ray” (no matter however tempting).


Stingray tail

Breakdown of a stingray barb

Breakdown of a stingray barb

Caudal Fin: The word caudal means of or like a tail. Caudal is usually used to refer to the tail of the stingray and the term caudal fin is used to describe a small fin at the end of a stingray’s tail.

Close of a stingray barb

Close up of a stingray barb on a stingray's tail

Stingray barb or stingray stinger or stingray spine: This is an interesting one - we’ve heard stingrays’ barbs referred to as stingray stingers, stingray barbs, and stingray spines.

No matter what you’re calling it - this is the part of a stingray you want to avoid! It’s a misconception that these barbs are made of bone. Rather, the barbs are made of dermal denticles which means ‘tiny skin teeth’. In fact, these dermal denticles even cover the skin of stingrays. Learn more about this and other stingray myths/facts in our blog post Myths and Facts about Stingrays!

Integumentary sheath: Stingray barbs have grooves in them that contain venom. To keep the venom in place, the barb is covered by a thin layer of skin called an integumentary sheath.

Barb spines: The stingray barb itself has spines that are serrated and have a backward curve to them. This is one of the reasons that they’re particularly dangerous - find more information on the barbs in our blog post Stingray Barbs - What Makes Them So Dangerous.

Stingray offspring

Ovoviviparous: Although stingrays are fish, their offspring hatch inside the mother and are born live. Ovoviviparous is a bridge term between egg-laying and live-bearing creatures to refer to eggs that hatch within the mother.

Pups: Stingrays’ offspring are called pups! It’s not uncommon to have as many as seven pups per litter. 

Claspers: Claspers are a differentiating organ between male and female stingrays. Males have claspers at the base of their tails.


Stingray bodies

Discal stingray shape

Discal stingray shape

Discal: Sometimes stingrays are described as discal since they are in the shape of a disc!

Cartilagenous Stingray Skeleton

Cartilaginous stingray skeleton

Cartilaginous: Stingrays have no bones inside them! Rather, they only have cartilage which is why they are called cartilaginous.

Stingray spiracles

Stingray spiracles

Spiracles: Spiracles are a special respiratory opening for stingrays. Stingrays bury themselves in sand and these openings help them get clean water to their gills.

How stingrays hunt

Ampullae of Lorenzini

Ampullae of Lorenzini

Ampullae of Lorenzini: One of the ways that stingrays detect their prey is through electrical signals. Stingrays eat crustaceans and other invertebrates and can detect their electrical signal through a special organ called the Ampullae of Lorenzini.

Benthic: Stingrays spend a lot of their time at the bottom of the seafloor buried to hide from predators or to hunt. The term benthic refers to anything associated with or occurring on the bottom of a body of water. Stingrays are sometimes referred to as benthic animals.

Effects of a stingray sting

Stingray sting: Stingrays are known to be gentle creatures. They only sting when provoked by a predator or a human accidentally runs into them. Sometimes people mistakenly refer to these as stingray strikes, stingray stabbings, or even stingray bites - ultimately though, these are reflexive stingray stings. If you are ever stung, please check out our post on What to Do if Stung by a Stingray

Tissue Necrosis: Unfortunately, sometimes stingray stings cause parts of the impacted skin to die. This is referred to as tissue necrosis.

Debridement: The removal of damaged tissue or foreign object from a wound is called debridement. This is a technique physicians use to treat stingray wounds.

Radiopaque: Thankfully, any part of a barb that breaks into the skin can be seen with an x-ray. This is because the barbs are radiopaque - meaning they are opaque to an x-ray. Physicians often use X-rays to determine if there are any barb fragments left in the wound.