Spotted eagle rays live along the open coast in warm waters throughout the world, though they are often associated with coral reefs and sometimes enter protected bays to feed or mate. They are generally considered a coastal species but some individuals must migrate far distances over deep water. And given that they can live for 25 years, it’s not surprising they travel some distance! You can easily identify them by that dark surface covered in white spots or rings. Each individual has a unique pattern of spots–just like a finger print. And the average eagle ray can have a wingspan of upwards of 11 feet! Near the base of the ray’s relatively long tail are several barbed stingers.
They commonly feed on small fish and crustaceans, and will sometimes dig with their snouts to look for food buried in the sand. These rays are often observed leaping out of the water (breaching). An eagle ray mainly eats mollusks, crabs, shrimp, octopuses, and some small fish. They actually have specialized jaws to destroy the shells of their prey. While doing this, a cloud of sand surrounds the ray and sand spews from its gills.
Spotted eagle rays give live birth. The mother gives birth to her young (1-4 pups per litter) and they are able to survive on their own immediately. Given this low birth rate and rarity, eagle rays are ‘near threatened’ with extinction. When you see them, consider yourself lucky! Here in Key Largo we often see schools of them during the summer once the water has begun to warm up. Cruising along many of our reefs in schools upwards of 10 or more! When you are diving and snorkeling look around you. Many times they will quietly swim right on by if you’re not looking in the water column.