Cownose Ray (Rhinoptera bonasus)
First things first: despite their common names of “cownose stingray” and “skate”, cownose rays are technically neither! Cownose rays are unique, so they belong to their very own family of rays. However, these interesting-looking ocean-dwellers can still pack a stinging punch, so avoid the venomous barb at the base of the tail. According to legend, Captain John Smith had an encounter with a cownose ray in Virginia, and the location still bears the name “Stingray Point”.
Despite these cautionary tales, cownose rays are known for their passiveness and will only sting when provoked. They are a common site along their shallow Atlantic coast migration path; found as far north as New England and as far south as Brazil. They often travel in large groups, called “schools”, that are formed based on the sex and age of the rays. Since they use their fins for locomotion, these underwater schools resemble flocks of large birds in underwater flight.
Cownose rays typically reach a wingspan of three feet, which comes in handy when they forage. The rays use their large fins to disturb mollusks in the seafloor sediments, and then they crush their prey using powerful dental plates.
On Little St. Simons, look for cownose rays along the edges of Mosquito Creek during a kayaking adventure—sometimes they even raise a fin to “wave”!
Fun Fact: The stinging barb on a cownose ray grows the same way as your finger nails, so the rays you see in “Touch Tanks” at aquariums are regularly clipped for safety.