And now we enter round three of the passes through my categories, back to the beginning (alphabetically anyway) with Aquatic. Our subject this week is an Atlantic stingray, known to its friends as Hypanus sabina, one of the many scientific names that has changed since I first started adding such to the posts and gallery pages (you may or may not see the new name there, since as I type this I haven’t yet changed it but I will. Eventually.) Atlantic stingrays were formerly known as Dasyatis sabina, and the taxonomic change was first proposed, at least, in 2001, but I’d been finding it under the former name for several years following that so it appears this takes some time to propagate throughout the webbernets – in fact, it is still identified as such on various sites. Man, it’s hard enough for me to remember these (and this was one that I did remember) without biologists changing them all the time…
This is a wild shot, in the Indian River Lagoon where there were always plenty to be seen, but photographing them was a different matter. Suspended sediment, rippling water surfaces, and reflections all conspired to make most attempts pretty ratty, to say nothing of getting close enough to one in shallow enough water to make it worthwhile in the first place. Despite the reputation for stingrays to bury themselves in the sand and stab their barb into hapless waders, I never once witnessed such behavior, and most times the rays were far too shy to even let me approach – they could easily sense my movement, no matter how stealthy I tried to be, and usually sped off before I was in decent range. This particular photo is thus a rarity in that regard, and in two others. You can see a small collection of glass minnows passing over the ray, meaning that I managed not to spook them either, and the focal length listed in the EXIF info indicates that I wasn’t shooting from a great distance off either. But glass minnows (actually, according to my quick search, a variety of anchovy – they’re colloquially identified as such in the region mostly because they’re used as bait for fishing) are wary of moving stingrays, as I found when a ray swam towards a large school of minnows while I watched from a dock. The minnows parted for the ray and maintained a margin of maybe a handspan around it as it passed through their midst, giving a distinct impression of something like magnetic repulsion. This, and the fact that I have another frame where the stingray is in the exact same position in regards to the bottom details, tells me the ray was motionless at the time of this photo.
Swimming stingrays are fascinating to watch, as I was reminded, and The Girlfriend and Her Sprog got their first chance to see, during this recent trip to Tybee Island. They move with a lovely rippling motion of their outer wings, very much like a flag in slow motion, looking much more like the current is simply moving past them. We were able to look down on several as they foraged in the shallows under a dock, looming from the murky sediment and vaguely following the waterline before disappearing into the depths again, always hugging the bottom because that’s where they find their food. For a while we thought there was only one, but eventually realized there was a decent collection of them mostly appearing singularly.
I feel obligated to tell you that the above image is altered noticeably from the original, by removing a lot of the color cast from the water itself and increasing contrast – again, shooting down into the water is not the best set of conditions. It might also have helped to be in an area with much clearer water, but we have what we have.
Once, I came across a partially dismembered and decaying carcass of a stingray, and wanted the main skeletal structure for display, so I brought it home and began simmering it gently in hot water, which breaks up the soft tissue to allow it to come away from the bone. Don’t look at me that way – that’s one of the easiest methods, and lots of people do it. Unfortunately, while I knew stingray skeletons were cartilaginous, I didn’t realize this meant that they simply crumbled under such treatment, and I ended up with nothing. However, on a different excursion I had come across another dead one with an intact tail, and managed to remove the barb itself, which is quite a bit tougher; since I still have it, I could do an illustrating photo for this post. Overall, it’s 50mm long and 3 wide at the broadest point, and quite easy to see why they’re such a pain to remove. And bear in mind, Atlantic stingrays are among the smallest of the barbed rays.