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Freshwater Rays

Freshwater stingrays hug the river’s floor like pancakes, their flat, round bodies helping them hide from predators. While naturally passive, the stingray thrashes its venomous barbed tail in defense when disturbed, causing an agonizing wound. In fact, it’s stingrays, not piranhas, that people in the Amazon watch out for when they enter the water.

Freshwater stingrays (three genera – Potamotrygon, Paratrygon and Plesiotrygon – in the family Potamotrygonidae) cannot live in salty waters. Their seafaring ancestors moved inland via a now-closed Pacific Ocean channel east of the Andes. They have adapted to the Amazon and other South American rivers by changing the salt concentrations in their bodies. And unlike their drabber marine relatives, freshwater stingrays show off spots, rosettes, pebble patterns and even what look like letters and numbers scribbled on a blackboard. These markings all serve to mimic the rocks, sand and light patterns of the river bottom where the rays swim and hide. See how many patterns you can spot when you visit the many rays in Amazon Rising.

You’ll find rays of different sizes as well as patterns. Shedd Aquarium has successfully bred several uncommon species of freshwater rays – some for the first time ever in a zoo, aquarium, or private collection. Mature females bear one or two litters a year, and they invest a lot of reproductive energy in their offsprings’ survival. From one to a dozen pups develop in the mother’s uterus, nourished by a nutritious milky secretion. Stingrays look like small adults at birth and are able to feed and fend for themselves. So watch out! Even a baby’s barb can sting.


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