Sting Rays Galore!

Updated: Apr 1

You never know what you might see when flying over the beaches with Hang Ten Helicopters, an exciting attraction in Perdido Key, FL. Stingrays however, are popular and frequently seen from above. From various fish species, dolphins, sea turtles and more, the 'Rays' also find the warm waters of The Gulf of Mexico to call home. Keep reading to discover fun facts and more about stingrays you might see during one of Perdido Key’s best things to do, a tour with Hang Ten Helicopters!

Here's a few different Florida stingray species you might see on your flight:

Sting Ray; photo by Alex Mustard/

The Southern Stingray feels most at home in warm, shallow waters, making the Gulf of Mexico ideal. It has a flat, diamond-shaped disc, with a mud brown, olive, and grey dorsal surface and white underbelly. You can also identify these rays by their long, whip-like barbed tails. Like all fishes, the Southern Stingray obtains oxygen from the water using its gills, but its habit of burying

its mouth in the sediment provides an obstacle to passing water from its mouth to the gill cavity. This species solves that problem by pumping water through specialized openings – called spiracles – that are located on the top of the head. The spiracles are located just behind the eyes and are easily noticeable in live individuals as well as photographs. Keep an eye out for these stingrays during your helicopter tour in Perdido Key, FL.

Mature Southern Stingrays have been known to reach sizes of nearly five feet wide, but the average adult size is smaller. This species reproduces via internal fertilization and gives live birth. From the start, Southern Stingrays can use a sharp, serrated barb – attached at the base of the tail – to defend against predation. If stepped on by a person, the barb can cause severe pain and can lead to a nasty wound, but it is not otherwise dangerous. When dissecting large hammerhead sharks, scientists often find dozens of Southern Stingray spines lodged in their jaws. Juvenile Southern Stingrays are eaten by other species of sharks as well. This species is not generally eaten by people, but it is often captured accidentally in bottom trawls and other net fisheries targeting other species. The Southern Stingray is also one of the most common species of large, whiptail stingrays found in public aquariums.

Spotted Eagle Ray; Photo by Ken Hunter Photography

One of the easiest Rays to identify during helicopter attractions and tours in Perdido Key is the Spotted Eagle Ray. It has a dark, flattened body covered in white spots. Near the base of the ray's relatively long tail, just behind the pelvic fins are several venomous, barbed stingers. The pectoral fins of the species are extremely pronounced and wing-shaped which they use for gliding over the ocean’s floor. The head is also very pronounced and features a beak-shaped tapered snout like a bird.

The Spotted Eagle Ray is found globally in tropical regions, not just the Gulf of Mexico but also the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are most commonly seen alone, but occasionally swim in groups. They are ovoviviparous, meaning the female retains the eggs then releasing the young as miniature versions of the parent already swimming and ready to explore. They can grow up to 29 feet long (including their tail) and 10 feet wide, with a hefty weight of up to 500 pounds. They maintain this impressive weight by gorging themselves on small fish, whelks, octopus, annelids, crabs, shrimp and bivalves. They will sometimes dig with their snouts to look for food buried in the sand of the sea bed.

These Rays are commonly observed leaping out of the water, and on at least two occasions have been reported as having jumped into boats. The Spotted Eagle Ray is hunted by a wide variety of sharks. They are fished mainly in Southeast Asia and Africa, the most common market being in commercial trade and aquariums. They are protected in the Great Barrier Reef.

Manta Ray ; photo by Marine MegaFauna Foundation

A fascinating discovery that has been recently made is that scientists have found the very first Manta Ray nursery in the world located in the Gulf of Mexico. Located 70 miles off the coast of Texas, this unique reef is where juvenile Manta Rays are taken care of for their first 4-5 years until they’re big and strong enough to go off on their own and live their lives as adults. Manta Rays come in two distinct color types: mostly black back and white belly or almost completely black on both sides. They also have distinct spot patterns on their bellies that can be used to identify individuals. There are two species of manta rays: Giant Manta Rays and Reef Manta Rays. Giant Manta Rays are generally larger than Reef Manta Rays, have a caudal thorn, and rough skin appearance.

Manta Rays are very flat and much wider than they are long, with enlarged fleshy pectoral fins which look like wings when they swim. Manta Rays feed on plankton and other small fish which they sweep into their mouths with their fins while swimming. They look intimidating but their tales are not stingers!

The Giant Manta Ray is the world’s largest Ray with a wingspan of up to 29 feet! They are filter feeders and eat large quantities of zooplankton. Giant Manta Rays are slow-growing, migratory animals with small, highly fragmented populations that are sparsely distributed across the world. The main threat to the Giant Manta Ray is commercial fishing, with the species both targeted and caught by coincidence in several global fisheries throughout its range. Manta Rays are particularly valued for their gill rakers, which are traded internationally. The Giant Manta Rays may be found in shallow waters at depths less than 10 meters. However, studies have shown that the species conducts dives of up to 200 to 450 meters and is capable of diving to depths exceeding 1,000 meters!

Manta Rays primarily feed on planktonic organisms such as euphaeids, copepods, mysids, decapod larvae, and shrimp, but some studies have noted their consumption of small and moderately sized fish as well. When feeding, Mantas will hold their cephalic fins in an “O” shape and open their mouths wide, creating a funnel that pushes water and prey through their mouth and over their gill rakers. Manta Rays use many different types of feeding strategies, such as barrel rolling and creating feeding chains with other Mantas to maximize prey intake.

As we usually state in our safety brief: "if you happen to see anything in the waters, make sure you point them out" because who would want to miss out on these sea pancakes! These are interesting facts to know about the incredible Florida stingray species, hopefully you get to experience them too! Book a tour with Hang Ten Helicopters to experience marine life from the sky on a favorite Perdido Key, FL, attraction!

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