The Amazing Flight of Little Ray
December 2017 by V. R. Duin

STINGRAY VENOM
OR STINGRAY POISON?

Little Ray was anything but dumb.
He began swinging like a pendulum.
Upside down, his spine was aimed wrong.
He could fix that — Little Ray was strong!
(“The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”)

A stingray sting, with its stinging barb and stingray venom, also called stingray “poison” by some people, forms part of the action in “The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”.

Do not worry about the bird in this story. Fish stories somehow seem to turn out well. One astonishing fact about stingray venom may seem like another fish story. Ancient Greek dentists used stingray “poison”, extracted from glands at the base of the stinging barbs, as an anesthetic. The stinging barb of a young stingray is small and not fully developed. Now, you know why bird may not be feeling pain from Little Ray's stingray sting. This is not to say that stingray venom or the stingray's venom delivery system should be taken lightly. Since it is highly toxic to humans, stingray venom is called stingray “poison” by many people. The wound should be cleaned and the bleeding stopped. A kit and additional instructions for stingray injury first aid are available at Ocean Care Solutions. Simple, home remedies are insufficient. Professional medical treatment should be sought. A stingray sting can cause sudden death.


The stinging barbs are used for self-defense. Stingrays do not use them in hunting. The barbs are attached to the body and are not released like an arrow. Venom, which is delivered by injection, is distinguished by scientists from poison, which must be ingested. A large stingray sting to a vital body part, such as the chest or abdomen, is very dangerous. The stingray venom and the stinging barb can be deadly. The stinging barb is covered with a layer of skin called the sheath, which holds the stingray venom. The sheath is saturated in venom via a gland at the base of the tail. These barbs are not venomous without the sheath. However, a stingray's sting can cause severe damage even without the venom. The serrated edges run the full length of the barb on both sides. The stinging barb cuts like a knife.


The wound made by a large stingray can be deep. A stingray sting can cause damage to muscles and tendons. The wound made by any stingray can become infected. Often, the stinging barb breaks off, requiring surgery for removal. The pain and swelling from a stingray wound can be severe, particularly when augmented by the venom. In battles with a human, a stinging animal is likely to win. Early warriors made deadly arrowheads, spearheads and daggers, with stingray barbs for the tips. These may be found on display in museums throughout the world. The enormity of these collections indicates these weapons were effective for those warriors. In addition, the tails of large stingrays can be used as cruel and punishing whips. Because of the damage caused, restrictions have been placed on the use of these weapons in today's world.


Although sharks may be immune to stingray venom, a stingray sting requires immediate medical attention for a person. In addition to traumatic wound care, treatment for the stingray “poison” varies with the symptoms: bleeding, chills, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting, fever, hives, muscle cramping, nausea, pain, paralysis, redness, seizures, shaking, swelling and/or vomiting. The effects may last for hours. Medications for allergic reactions may lessen some symptoms, but are not a cure. The victim should not be given anything to drink. Liquids may cause aspiration or choking. The victim should be positioned on his or her back with the feet higher than the head. Tight clothing should be loosened and movement discouraged to avoid further irritation and spread of the venom. Without proper medical equipment and training, handling or removal of the stinging barb should not be attempted.


Some sharks also have stinging spines located at the base of the dorsal fin. These are surrounded by venom delivery glands. Careless handling of these sharks may result in envenoming. The injury is likely to be memorable, but it generally may be treated and cured. Even if there is no permanent damage, the fear is likely to remain. These animals cause reputed pain. The lesson to be learned is that not all creatures are friendly. Much like people, animals are what they are. Some of them should be avoided. Most of them will try to avoid people. Never chase a fleeing, stinging creature, unless you work for a medical supply or pharmaceutical company in search of a new medicinal delivery system or property. A stingray's toxic venom serves as the last line of defense for stingrays that have stinging barbs. Not all rays are stingrays, because not all rays are equipped to deliver a stingray sting.


Some rays have no special defense mechanisms at all. Manta rays are stingray relatives that have neither stinging barbs nor stingray venom. Manta rays cannot deliver a stingray sting. They use their immense size to frighten away intruders. When this scare tactic fails, manta rays will try to flee from determined predators. The horns on a devil ray and a manta ray are not used for fighting. Devil rays have a name that makes them seem aggressive. However, only one member of this species has a venomous stinging barb. The horns are part of the filter-feeding apparatus that unfolds to funnel plankton, krill and small fish into their mouths. Flight is the first line of defense for these unaggressive, shy fish. As with devil rays and manta rays, most stingrays prefer to flee. They are not automatic stinging machines.


Electric rays stun prey and predators with electric shock. Electric rays can scale their shock levels depending upon whether they want to deter or kill a potential predator. The shock from an electric ray may knock a human or large animal down, causing death by drowning. Otherwise, the shock is likely to be painful, but not deadly to healthy, large victims. Like electric rays, catfish and eels have electric shock ability. The defense mechanism of electric shock is as deadly as a stingray sting to the animals on which these rays dine. A large electric ray is capable of killing some sharks. As with stingray venom, the electric charges omitted by these animals are of interest to humans. Electric ray charges have been used throughout the ages as experimental cures and instruments of torture. However, these electric fish largely are disinterested in humans.


To attack, as shown in the above illustration from “The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”, a stingray swings its tail over its body to jab above with its venomous stinging barb. The death of Australian naturalist Steve Irwin by stingray sting was unfortunate. Mr. Irwin was swimming in shallow water above a stingray. This may have interfered with the stingray's perceived escape route and provoked self-defense. Rarely are stingray stings fatal. One or two deaths from stingrays are reported on average, throughout the world over the course of one year. The stingray's knife-like stinging barb speared Mr. Irwin in the chest, killing him almost instantly. Stingray stinging injuries are typically made to the feet or legs of a person wading in shallow water. While swimming among stingrays, never touch the tail area, where the stinging barb is located. This may provoke an attack.


Stingrays prefer to flee because, if a venomous stinging barb breaks off during the attack, it takes a long time to grow back. The stinging barbs also wear out, so stingrays continually are growing new ones. New barbs generally push the old barbs off. However, multiple barbs may stack on top of each other. Stingrays are luckier than honey bees. When honey bees sting a mammal, their stingers cannot be withdrawn without ripping off large sections of their abdomens. This causes these bees to die almost instantly. Other bees, ants, hornets, yellow jackets and wasps survive their stings, as do scorpions. As with the stingray sting, these creatures do not suffer massive abdominal ruptures after stinging. Like stingrays, these stinging creatures live to sting, again and again. Unlike stingrays, some of these creatures sting their animal prey to immobilize it.


The venoms delivered by ants, bees, hornets, wasps, scorpions and yellow jackets are different from the stingray venom delivered with a stingray sting. However, all of these creatures have tails with stingers to inject their venom. As with stingray “poison”, the venoms delivered by ants, bees, wasps, hornets, scorpions and yellow jackets can be deadly to humans. A stinging barb may be left behind by these stinging animals. Stingers from these creatures must be removed during wound treatment. The toxins from any of these stinging animals can cause allergic reactions that may require hospitalization. A group of sharks is called a shiver, which makes sense. Many people shiver just to think of the damage sharks can cause. A group of stingrays is called a fever, which also makes sense. A fever can result from infections caused by a stingray's stinging barb or as a reaction to the stingray venom.


The toxins from jellyfish remain after these creatures tear apart or die. The stings come from tentacles that look like streaming tails. Different species of box jellyfish live warm coastal waters throughout the world. The lethal species of box jellyfish typically live in the waters of Northern Australia. They also are found in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and in nearby waters in the Pacific ocean. More people are killed by box jellies than by sharks. Box jellyfish also are called sea wasps and marine stingers. Most jellyfish travel by floating on currents. They do not swim with their tentacles. To move through the water, box jellies use body contractions that pump in water, then push it out. Prey gets caught in the nearly invisible tentacles dangling behind these invertebrates that are not fish. Jellyfish have no brains, no backbones and no intentions of being aggressive. Box jellies are considered among the most venomous animals in the world. Few human victims make it back to shore. Stingray venom pales by comparison.


The most deadly creature in the world is not venomous. The World Health Organization provides an Executive Summary of Insect-Borne Diseases. Most people bitten by the world's most dangerous insect suffer an itchy bump. However, the blood-eating mosquito is responsible for diseases that kill several million people and sicken hundreds of millions of others, each year. Female mosquitoes feed on blood to aid in egg production. The saliva of this insect contains anti-clogging properties, as does that of vampire bats. When this saliva enters the bloodstream of the host, it can transmit deadly bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases to people and animals. There are many different types of mosquitoes. Only female mosquitoes bite. Male mosquitoes feed on fruit and flower nectar. Electrical, chemical and magnetic repellents may not live up to the claims of warding off sharks. A simple shuffling motion may ward off stingray stings. Mosquito repellents may work better than those for more highly feared, but less noxious beasts. Protection should be easier than a cure.

Stingray Stings

  • stingray sting Little Ray says:

    For information after a stingray sting in the United States, call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • stingray venom Little Ray says:

    Stephen Robert “Steve” Irwin died from trauma and stingray venom, but his enthusiasm for wildlife remains, thanks to his family and documentaries co-hosted with his wife.

    • stinging barbLittle Ray says:

      Any stingray with a stinging barb can sting, even the babies, so beware when entering or moving through water.