Danger! Don't Step!

Stingrays are non-aggressive scavengers that burrow in sandy and muddy bottoms in search of worms, mollusks, and crustaceans.  However, these docile animals are armed with sharp, venom-covered spines on the tops of their tails that can inflict an extremely painful, and in some cases very serious injury. An estimated 1500 such injuries occur annually in the United States.   Most occur in summer and autumn when swimmers and fishermen wade in shallow waters.  For example, on one weekend in August, 2007, 14 people were stung by stingrays on beaches at Galveston, Texas.  These stingray “attacks” are purely defensive and occur when a person steps on a ray or somehow corners or threatens it.  This defensive response can be avoided by slowly shuffling the feet along the bottom.  Fishermen call this the “stingray shuffle.”  When shuffling feet gently bump into a ray, it will swim away rather than strike out defensively.  In contrast, stepping down and pinning a stingray to the bottom is bound to elicit the painful strike.

I’ve never been stung by a stingray, but from descriptions I’ve read, I certainly hope I never will.  They are intensely painful and require immediate attention, first aid, and frequently, further treatment.  The spine has sharp, serrated teeth that make the its edges much like a sharp, serrated steak knife.  When a stingray strikes its target, the spine either remains attached to the ray or breaks off inside the victim.  In the latter case, the recurved, serrated teeth make it difficult to extract the spine and doing so can cause considerable tissue damage.  The spine contains two grooves that run along the lower side that contain venom-producing tissues.  Any soft tissue from the spine or small broken pieces of spine must be completely removed from the wound to avoid serious infection.  The venom contains proteins that cause tissue death; such tissue death slows healing and can lead to serious complications, including gangrene.  The treatment that is recommended to minimize the damage of a sting is the immediate application of heat by soaking the injured body part in hot water (non-scalding; about 110 degrees F.) for 30 to 90 minutes or until the pain subsides.  This heat treatment destroys the tissue-damaging proteins and greatly reduces the risk of further complications.  Antibiotics are frequently administered to prevent serious infection.  Any person stung by a ray should seek immediate, professional medical treatment.

Size:  36 x 24 inches  (2003)

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