How Do Stingrays Sting

Stingray is notorious, especially on the east coast, as a trash fish to most people and is able to ruin your day if you are not able to handle it and it stings you. You can dehook this fish and get your bait back in the water if you know how Stingrays can hurt you. How do Stingrays sting?  

If threatened, a stingray will whip its tail at you, which can reach up over its head, stinging you with one or more of its spines piercing your skin and leaving a laceration or puncture wound in your skin as the sheath around each spine breaks apart & release venom into the wound and surrounding tissue. 

Stingrays are known to be gentle creatures and won’t bother humans if not disturbed. However, humans often step on them since stingrays bury themselves underneath the sand in shallow waters, where fishermen often catch them dragging weighted lines back to shore.


Stingray Barb Tail


                                          Stingray Barbed Tail

If stingrays are stepped on or handled roughly, or even spooked, their tails will whip forward toward their head, or to the side. They use their tails as a weapon. At the end of a stingray’s tail, called its caudal appendage, lies its venom appendage.

Located at the tail, there are long spines measuring several inches long and typically thought of as what puts the sting in stingray lay within a grooved abscess in the tail known as the cuneiform area.

These spines are essentially hidden from sight when the stingray is unthreatened. These venomous barbs will put an end to a great day of fishing or, at the very least, put you out of commission for a while.

The Barbs on a Stingray are always located on the tail. They are at different locations on the tail of the fish mostly at the base or just off the base where the tail meets the body.

The farther up the barb has located, the better your chances are of getting stung when handling one of these creatures. Barbs typically have venom in addition to a sharp stinger. (You can make out the protruding stinger in the picture)

The venom on the stinger is produced by a venom gland in the skin of the tail. Some species have fairly weak venom, so most of the pain associated with being stung is from the wound itself.

However, some species have stronger venom, and the pain associated with the venom may be felt throughout the appendage that was stung. In A fisherman’s scenario, you are most likely going to be stung on the hand trying to dehook the Ray.

Stingers on Rays fall off as they get old, and a new one grows in its place. Sometimes when a Stingray uses its stinger for defense, the stinger breaks off, but the stingray will grow a new stinger.

Some, like Eagle Rays, may have 5-6 stingers that are stacked on top of each other, making them even harder to handle.

You can make this barb out protruding around 6 inches from the base of the fish Rays are cartilaginous fishes just like sharks, skates, and chimeras.

That means that their skeletons are made not out of bone but out of cartilage (the bendy stuff that’s in our ears and noses).


Baitcaster vs Spinning Reel



How Does a Stingray Attack


When a Stingray attacks, they normally sense that they are in danger. Stepping on one will make them react and use their stinger, but for the most part, a fisherman will be stung if not careful in the hand trying to recover the hook from a Stingrays mouth.

When a stingray attacks, it must be facing its victim because it will use the flipping motion of its long tail upward over its body, so it strikes whatever is in front of it. It’s pretty quick and can catch you by surprise.

I know I’ve been there. The sting contains a sharp spine with serrated edges, or barbs, that face the body of the fish. There is a venom gland at the base of the spine and a membrane-like sheath that covers the entire defense mechanism.

If you take the time to watch this video, you will see that the angler took precautions and extra time to deal humanely with this Ray, and it still stung him in his hand, probably because it was hooked in the tail and the mouth making it super difficult to deal with.



A stingray’s venom is not necessarily fatal, but it hurts greatly. It’s composed of the enzymes 5-nucleotidase and phosphodiesterase and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin causes smooth muscle to contract, and it is this component that makes the venom so painful. Having been stung, I can attest to how much it hurts. I pride myself on being extra careful when handling these fish.

How to Unhook a Stingray


There are a few things that I have learned when dealing with a Stingray, especially in a surf environment where there are other factors involved, like wave action and tides, that can affect your balance and footing.

  • The main thing to do is to drag the fish up onto the beach out of the surf
  • Flip the Stingray on its back
  • Take a wet washrag or thicker type cloth rag and hold the tail down at the stinger.
  • Remove the hook with needlenose pliers-(Stingrays can also Bite!)
  • With the same hand you are holding the tail-pick it up and throw it back into the water.
  • Always use a circle hook for easier hook retrieval.



How to Treat a Stingray Sting


According to WebMD 

  1. Bathe Wound in Seawater and Remove Pieces. While still in the water, irrigate the wound to remove fragments of spine and tissue. …
  2. Stop Bleeding. Apply pressure above the wound if it is bleeding.
  3. Soak the Wound in Hot Water For Pain Relief. …
  4. Scrub Wound. …
  5. Go to a Hospital Emergency Room.
  6. Follow Up.

If you are a surf fisherman like myself, there is no doubt that you have had a run-in with a Stingray, especially in shallow waters on the east coast beaches. In New Jersey, they are considered a nuisance or a trash fish that are also capable of delivering a sting, so dehooking them is a bit tense, to say the least. For more information on the Stingray and how to deal with it, read my article called How to Unhook a Stingray.


Jim Galloway Author/Editor

References: How Stuff Works-When Stingrays Attack

California State University-Stingray Facts



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