Rays have fascinated both scientists and observers alike for centuries. With their graceful, gliding nature and generally large span, they can be seen in hundreds of public aquariums all over the world. While not impossible to keep in a home aquarium, it is recommended only for the skilled and experienced aquarist to attempt. Rays are particular creatures that require specific living conditions and care that usually cost high dollar. But for those who have done their research and are ready to take on a ray, it can be a rewarding experience indeed.
As with any type of aquarium creature, one of the first things to consider is tank size. How big will the ray be as an adult? Most of the time rays are sold far before they have reached their maximum size, leading to some confusion and frustration for the aquarium owner. Always research the size of the species at adulthood before purchasing a premium home for the ray. A few species in particular can be as large as three feet in diameter. It is recommended (based on average adult ray size) to have an aquarium of at least 100 gallons. Rays are fairly active, are unusual in shape, and grow very rapidly. It is said that the tank should be at least twice the width of the stingray’s disc width and at least five times as long. Decoration is an important part in any aquarium for providing hiding places and resting areas for aquatic life. Rays are no exception as they frequently enjoy ledges to hide under or relax upon. However rough, jagged, or large décor can be harmful to a ray’s body. If they collide into edges, these injuries can lead to life-threatening infections. Keep this in mind when choosing substrate as well. Fine-sand substrate is recommended to be thickly laid upon the bottom, keeping the rays from harm and allowing them to bury themselves in the sand.
Food and Care:
Rays are carnivorous and prefer live food. They can be perceived as picky in the first week, as they are adapting to new surroundings, however most grow accustomed to their environment and can even adapt to eating frozen food. Some have even been known to eat from their owner’s hand. In particular, rays prefer river shrimp and earth worms, and live grass shrimp can usually coax even the pickiest ray to feed. With carnivores, it is important to reduce the use of thiaminase-rich foods (containing an enzyme that breaks down thiamine into two molecular parts) such as prawns and squid. Alternatives include tilapia, cockles, cod, and haddock, as well as a variety of worms. Do not use copper-based medications or trichlorfon on rays. Rays are highly sensitive to ammonia and nitrite and most aquarists recommend using large, external canister filters to keep the water chemistry in check.
As close relatives of the shark, rays tend to hover, bury in the sand, and hunt prey in a similar manner. This means they need plenty of space and usually should be housed alone or in small groups of rays (but with only one male to avoid aggressive behavior). Aggressive tank-mates should be avoided, including angelfish, butterflyfish, and triggerfish, and small fish in the tank will be seen as prey. Oscars have been successfully kept with rays, however they can make a new ray feel anxious in unfamiliar surroundings and may lead to issues with feeding. Sexually mature adult rays breed easily and the pups can be maintained to adulthood as well. Adults will not be aggressive toward their babies, but the pups should be moved to their own tank so that feeding and care can be carefully monitored. It should also be noted that stingrays are venomous creatures; handling them should be done at one’s own risk. Before bringing a ray home, be aware of the proper medical procedures and actions to take in case of an emergency.
Several Recommended Species:
Beautifully colored and varying in size and shape, it can be overwhelming trying to decide what kind of ray to house. When purchasing a ray, be cautious of physical injuries, poor eating habits, rays that appear boney or “skinny,” and ones that do not bury under the sand. These can be signs of disease or illness and can affect the lifespan of the ray. Rays come in both fresh and saltwater varieties, but only a handful have been successfully kept in home aquariums for long spans of time. The following species are options to consider:
- Whiptail Stingray
- Torpedo Ray
- Electric Ray
- Mottled Stingray
- White-blotched Stingray
- Teacup Stingray
- Motoro Stingray
- Reticulated Stingray
Adequate research on each species should be conducted prior to accepting the responsibility of a live stingray. They require tremendous work and planning, but can bring peace and beauty to a household aquarium.