Animal of the Month
December 2018

Name: Cownose Ray


Class: Chondrichthyes
Subclass: Elasmobranchii
Order: Myliobatiformes
Suborder: Myliobatolide
Family: Mylobatidae
Genus: Rhinoptera
Species: : R. bonasus

Size: 2 ½ feet across, females 2-3 feet across. Can reach up to 7 feet long.
Weight: 50 lbs. and up

Characteristics: Flat kite-shaped body, long wings. Long tail with a defensive barb at the base. Two eyes on either side of its wide head, which resembles a cow's nose. Breathes through gills under the wings. Canine teeth concealed within mouth.
Color(s): Brown back, white or yellowish underbelly
Behavior: Swims in schools, which can number in the thousands!
Preferred Habitat: Warm temperate and tropical waters, in depths of up to 72 feet.
Range: The Atlantic Ocean, from Africa to the U.S. East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and parts of the Caribbean.
Diet: Bottom-dwelling lobsters, crabs, shellfish and fish.

Lifespan: Females up to 18 years, males up to 16 years.

Status: Near-Threatened

Sometimes when scientists discover a new animal, they give it a particular name because it reminds them of another animal. For example, the leopard shark is named for its leopard-like spots, and the zebra moray eel is named for its zebra-like stripes. Likewise, the cownose ray is named because its face looks like a cow's nose! Cownose rays are members of the eagle ray family. They are an open water species, meaning they prefer to swim in the open ocean, though they can be found in tropical and temperate waters across the Atlantic, from Africa to the U.S. East Coast, Brazil, Venezuala, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Cownose rays have long wings instead of typical fish fins. This allows them to fly or glide through the water. Sometimes they stick their fins through the water's surface, appearing to be a shark fin! Though they are shy and not aggressive, cownose rays are armed with a venomous spine at the base of their pointed tails. They use these spines to strike anything that attacks them. They have few predators, namely bull sharks, sandbar sharks, cobia (a large species of fish) and humans.

Cownose rays usually live in large schools made up of hundreds of individuals. They spend their time searching for clams, oysters, crabs and bottom-dwelling fish to eat. As a group, they beat their wings to stir up sand and uncover hiding prey. Twice a year, cownoses migrate across the ocean. They migrate en-masse-up to 10,000 of them travel at a time! Cownose rays begin to mate around four or five years old. Mating occurs from June through October. A female cownose will carry her pup for 11-12 months before giving birth! The oldest known female cownose was 18 years old, and the oldest known male was 16 years old.

Currently cownose rays are classed as Near-Threatened. Their numbers are strong, but there are concerns for their future. In the past they have been labeled as an invasive species, which is not accurate. Some feel that they threaten commercial oyster beds and have called for them to be targeted in a new fishery. Currently their biggest threat is bycatch from fishing operations that target other fish. These reckless methods of fishing needlessly catch and kill thousands of sea animals, including cownose rays. Cownose rays only give birth to one pup once a year. If they were to be targeted by fisherman, it would take a long time for their numbers to bounce back.

Fortunately, much can be done to protect cownose rays and other marine animals before things look grim! Check out these awesome websites to learn more!

Chesapeake Bay Program, Cownose Ray Page-Dedicated to restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay area, this program conducts research on cownose migrations as well as other animals.
https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/cownose ray

Azula, Cownose Ray Video-Azula, an educational and news project run by Oceana, shares a video of the cownose ray migration! Watch as thousands of rays swarm near the docks of an island in Florida!

The cownose rays and other sea creatures need YOU! Please consider asking your local representatives to do more to curb overfishing and ban bottom-trawling fishing!


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