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Physiology of Stingray Venom

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Stingrays are elasmobranches, a cartilaginous fish subclass which includes sharks, skates, and rays, that can live in either marine or freshwater habitats (Diaz, 2008).  Stingrays are found throughout the world in tropical and temperate seas and freshwater rivers and estuaries including those in South America, Equatorial Africa, and Indochina (Magalhaes et al., 2008; Dehghani et al., 2009).  Stingrays are generally docile creatures, usually only stinging people as a result of getting stepped on or being similarly aggravated (Diaz, 2008).  Most of these injuries occur because the rays tend to rest in shallow waters along the sand or mud, relatively hidden from the view of unsuspecting beach-goers. Fishermen are also frequent victims of such stings since many stingrays can often get trapped in nets and other fishing gear, forcing the fisherman to handle and release them (Haddad Junior et al., 2003).

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Stingrays produce toxins as a form of protection from predators, allowing for their survival in such aquatic ecosystems (Magalhaes et al., 2006). The four main categories of stingrays from most toxic to least toxic include the urolopid round rays, the dasyatid whip-rays, the myliobatid eagle and bat rays, and the gymnurid butterfly rays.  Out of these groupings, the whip-rays have the longest stings reaching up to 37 centimeters in length with the eagle and bat rays, round rays, and butterfly rays following with stings up to 12 centimeters, 4 centimeters, and 2.5 centimeters in length respectively (Germain et al., 2000).  Unlike reptiles and many terrestrial animals that produce poisons or toxins, stingray venom has not been studied as extensively since the venom is difficult to extract, capturing stingrays can be tough and dangerous, the amount of venom obtained is generally very low, and the venom is heat-sensitive, or thermolabile (Haddad Junior et al., 2003).



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