Species Spotlight: Cownose Rays

Cownose rays are seasonal visitors to the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months, when they mate and give birth!

Published September 05, 2018

The cownose ray ranges in color from brown to green, has a wingspan of up to 3 feet and can weigh as much as 50 pounds. Its known for its kite-shaped body and long tail.

Cownose ray

This species is known to interact with others of its kind, living in shallow waters and swimming in schools. When swimming, the tips of their wings often break the surface of the water, sometimes giving the appearance of a shark fin.

As a migratory species, cownose rays spend the colder, winter months in the subtropical waters off the east coast of Florida. Mating occurs in June or July, and males typically leave the Bay for the ocean soon after, while females remain in the Bay’s shallow waters until mid-October. At that point, males and female migrate together back to Florida, and the cycle starts all over again!

The preferred and primary diet of cownose rays consists of thin-shelled razor clams and soft shell clams, which they excavate from the floor of their habitat using their fins. When migrating to new waters, their diet may vary depending on what is available. Predators of this species include sandbar sharks and bull sharks.

The cownose ray’s conservation status is currently listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. These rays are valuable members of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem during the time they spend here, as they are important in the regulation of the Bay’s food chain.

Stay tuned for more updates!

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