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Stingray Injury

Stingray Injury Facts

Stingrays do not actually attack. Injuries from these sharklike creatures are usually defensive actions. Once disturbed, their venomous stinger (spine) near the base of their tails lashes out and can cause punctures or lacerations (cuts). Their mouth parts do not cause injury, but a hickey can occur if they try to suck you.

Stingrays are aquatic, cartilaginous vertebrates who are members of the shark family. They have flat bodies and winglike fins. Stingrays are nonassertive and can be found lying in the sand in shallow water at the beach or swimming free in open waters. Most are saltwater creatures, but a few live in fresh water.

  • In 1608, Captain John Smith, the explorer who founded the Jamestown settlement, was injured by a stingray in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Annually, about 1,500 stingray-induced injuries occur in the United States.

What Causes Stingray Injury?

Most stingray injuries typically occur when a person accidentally steps on a ray as it lies on the shallow, sandy bottom of a beach area. Rays often cover themselves with sand for camouflage while resting or hiding from predators, so they can be hard to see. When stepped upon or harassed, they swing or arch their tail in the direction of the intruder as a defensive maneuver to protect themselves. This drives their spine into the unwanted intruder. The ray’s tail can reach all the way to the front of its head for protection.

People who step on a stingray most frequently are injured on their feet and lower legs. Hands and arms can be injured if a person tries to touch or catch one.

  • A fisherman, for example, can be injured removing a stingray from a net or fishing line.
  • In rare cases, the stingray's powerful spine has penetrated a person's abdomen or chest causing severe injury.
  • Rays found in home aquariums can cause injuries.
  • You can prevent injury by shuffling your feet while walking or wading through water to startle and shoo them away. Wearing footwear such as sneakers or dive booties may not help because the spine can penetrate them.
  • Don't try to chase or ride a stingray.
  • If you have hooked one, cut the line and release it. A seemingly dead ray can whip its tail in defense and cause an injury.
  • Certain rays, such as skates and manta rays, do not have a stinger at the base of their tails and are harmless.
  • Some rays in marine parks are friendly because they have become used to humans, and you can touch them. These rays are more likely to give you a hickey from the suction action created by their mouths when trying to feed on your hands. Venom is only located in the tail spine.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/15/2016
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Stingrays (ie, elasmobranchs) are bottom-dwelling cartilaginous fish that have a flattened body, one or more stout spines on the tail, gill slits on the lower surface of the head, teeth modified into 2 large crushing plates, and no dorsal fin.

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