Skate or Ray?

Skates and rays can be difficult to differentiate. Both are flat and (with a few notable exceptions, such as the eagle and manta rays) bottom-dwelling elasmobranchs sharing a similar diamond or rhomboid shape. Some of the most familiar forms occur together in coastal habitats. Adding to the confusion, the term 'ray' is also used in reference to the electric and torpedo rays (order Torpediniformes); fortunately, torpedinoids are unlikely to be confused with either skates or rays (especially if one handles a live specimen!), being easily identified by the following characteristics: a rounded pectoral disc; soft, flabby body; dorsal fins nearer the pelvic fins than the tail tip; and kidney-shaped electrogenic organs at the base of the pectoral fins. Distinguishing skates from rays is rather subtle, but once one has learned their respective field marks, it is relatively easy to tell them apart.

Skates (order Rajiformes):

Rays (order Myliobatiformes):

In addition, skates are typically drab, brownish or greyish deep-water inhabitants, while many rays are boldly or colorfully patterned, shallow-water inhabitants. But these are generalizations only. Some skates are attractively blotched or spotted and others occur in shallow and even estuarine water, while some rays are plain greyish above, lighter below, and some live at great depths.

 

ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Text and illustrations R. Aidan Martin
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