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What is an Electric Ray?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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The electric ray is a type of cartilaginous fish of the order Torpediniformes. It's also known as the crampfish, numbfish, or torpedo fish. There are at least 14 commonly recognized species of electric ray, which normally live in the world's temperate and tropical ocean waters. These large, long-lived fish generally prefer shallow waters, and usually feed on smaller fish such as mackerel or herring. Electric rays are usually able to manufacture electricity within their bodies, and can produce a shock large enough to render an adult human unconscious.

These fish usually have a flat-bodied, disk-like appearance, with large dorsal, caudal, and tail fins. Organs on the electric ray's head are generally responsible for producing the electric charge that gives this fish its common name. The electric ray is considered capable of delivering jolts of 45 to 50 volts. Human divers are often warned to stay away from these fish, which can be aggressive and have been known to pursue humans in the water. The jolt of electricity this fish produces is considered capable of rendering an adult human unconscious.

In color, these fish are usually blue, gray, or brown. Markings are generally limited to black spots on the upper side of the body, while the underside of the body is usually pale in color.

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These fish grow slowly and most live for about 16 years, though they have been known to live as long as 24 years. Male rays typically reach their adult size, about 26 inches (92 cm) long, at about seven years of age. Females may reach their adult size, 29 inches (73 cm) long, at about nine years of age.

Electric rays typically feed on other fish, such as flatfish, halibut, mackerel, and herring. They are capable of detecting the electric signals these fish give off. The electric ray usually hunts by wrapping its body around the prey fish, then stunning it with an electric charge.

Rays such as the electric ray generally prefer the warm ocean waters found near reefs and kelp beds. These fish generally live independently, and do not usually have distinct territorial boundaries. Electric rays usually remain near coastlines, in waters ranging from 10 to 656 feet (3 to 200 m) deep. They are sometimes, however, found swimming in deeper waters.

Females of the species generally give birth to live young. The offspring are commonly referred to as pups, and there are usually 17 to 20 pups per litter. Pups are typically 7 to 9 inches (18 to 23 cm) long at birth and may reach lengths of up to 10 inches (25 cm) by the end of their first year.

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