Introduction to Skates and Rays
Skates and Rays, fish closely related to sharks. Like sharks, skates and rays have skeletons of cartilage rather than bone. Most skates and rays have bodies that are flattened from top to bottom. Their large pectoral fins, often called wings, are attached to the head. Skates live in cold seas; rays live in warm seas and in some tropical rivers. There are about 100 species of skates and about 240 species of rays.Skates have flat bodies and large pectoral fins attached to the head.
Skates range in length from a few inches to about 8 feet (2.4 m). Most, however, are less than 2 feet (60 cm) long. Rays range in length from less than 6 inches (15 cm) to more than 35 feet (11 m). Skates and rays are usually brown or gray above, often with various markings. They are whitish below, blending in well with their environment.
Skates and most rays live on the bottom of the waters they inhabit. Skates are sluggish animals that either lie on the bottom or slowly cruise, looking for the clams, snails, shrimp, and other small animals that they eat. Rays are far more active, constantly moving about and often rolling and jumping along the ocean floor. Their food is similar to that of skates and they sometimes take a heavy toll of clam and oyster beds.
The mouth in almost all skates and rays is on the underside of the body. Skates and bottom-dwelling rays take in water through openings, called spiracles, at the top of the head. The water is transferred to the gills, on the underside of the head. Those rays that do not live on the bottom take in water through the mouth, like other fish. Skates and rays have five pairs of gill slits.
The skin of skates is generally covered with numerous scales, but some skates and most rays have smooth skin. The tail is often slender and whiplike. Most rays have one or more sharp barbs on the ends of their tails; the barbs can inflict pain on humans. Sometimes these barbs contain poison. Skates do not have barbed tails, but some have organs along the sides of the tail that can produce an electric shock. The voltage they emit is generally low.
Young skates hatch from eggs contained in leathery, protective capsules. Rays do not lay eggs, but give birth to live young.
Skates and rays are eaten throughout the world. They are not popular in the United States for food but are used to make fertilizer and fish meal. The pectoral fins of some species are used to make imitation scallops in the United States.