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Brookfield Zoo animal spotlight: Cownose rays

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We've got a new feature here on The Doings called the "Brookfield Zoo animal spotlight." Each month, we will feature one (or more) of Brookfield Zoo's animals and give you some background information about the animal(s), its species, its family and its connection to the zoo!

Species name: Cownose rays

Arrival date: April 2014

Q. How long will the rays be at Brookfield Zoo?

A. They will be on exhibit in Stingray Bay until Sept. 28.

Q. Give us a bit of background on cownose rays.

A. Cownose rays get their name because people thought the indentation between their eyes resembles a cow’s nose. Cownose rays are a common species of ray and live in the western Atlantic Ocean from New England to Brazil. They are in the same family as sharks and skates, and like those other fish, their structure is made up mostly of cartilage. Also like sharks, cownose rays have a “sixth sense.” Electrosensors located on the rays’ snout helps them sense signals coming from other living organisms. Unlike many sharks, though, these rays don’t have teeth. They have two dental plates that crush food they find on the floor of the ocean. 

Q. How many cownose rays are at Brookfield Zoo?

A. Currently, there are 54 cownose rays in Stingray Bay.

Q. Do the rays interact with people on a daily basis?

A. Absolutely! Guests can come to Stingray Bay and dive elbow deep into the rays’ pool. They can touch the rays and learn all about how they live and eat. 

Q. Should we worry about the barbs on the rays?

A. No. While it’s true that cownose rays do have barbs, our guests are in no danger. The barb is located at the base of the rays’ tail, close to their body, and it is toxic. It is fixed, meaning the barb doesn’t move to sting a predator. The good news is that the zookeepers painlessly trim each barb, making the rays safe for petting. The rays’ barb is made out of a material similar to human hair and nails.  

Q. Anything else that you want to say about this animal?

A. The rays at Stingray Bay are young, so they aren’t fully grown. When a cownose ray is full grown, it can be up to 7 feet long from wingtip to wingtip. Traditionally open-water swimmers, cownose rays can dive to a depth of 72 feet below the surface of the water. In the ocean, they are known to migrate great distances and in warmer months have been seen congregating in Chesapeake Bay.

To learn more about cownose rays or any of the other animals at Brookfield Zoo, go to www.CZS.org or like Brookfield Zoo on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/BrookfieldZoo.

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