A bat ray is a type of fish that is a member of the eagle ray family and belongs to the genus and species Myliobatis californica. They feed mostly upon crustaceans such as mollusks and crabs, and their hunting habits typically involve using their “wings” to dig in the sandy ocean floor for food. While a bat ray does have a venomous barb in its tail, it is not likely to use this barb unless in defense or if startled and is not considered dangerous.
Typically found along the Eastern Pacific Ocean, as well as near the Galapagos Islands, bat rays can often be seen along the ocean floor and in kelp beds. The “wings” of a bat ray are actually pectoral fins the ray uses to swim, often gliding gracefully and flapping them slightly like a bird in flight, which is why they are categorized as a type of eagle ray. They also use the fins to dig for food, typically preferring crustaceans they dig up and eat.
Bat rays have hard teeth that are flat and fused into plates, which they use to crush the hard shells of their preferred diet. They then spit out the shells and eat the soft meat within. The trenches dug by a hunting bat ray typically provide opportunities for other fish that cannot dig to find scraps or other uncovered creatures for their own feeding needs.
Much like a shark, a bat ray will replace any teeth that are lost or heavily damaged, and will constantly grow teeth throughout its life. Bat rays typically mate during spring or summer, and their embryos develop within eggs that remain inside the female. They are then born about nine to 12 months after conception, and emerge tail first with their “wings” wrapped around their bodies.
The sharp barb in the tail of a bat ray is soft and covered in a sheath when it is born, in order to protect the mother during delivery. This barb hardens within a few days, and the bat ray can then live more than 20 years. Though they are typically solitary creatures, some groups of hundreds and even thousands have occasionally been seen.
Bat rays are not endangered, though they are often a popular target for sport fishers, since they are well known for putting up a fight if caught. For some time, they had been trapped by commercial oyster growers who believed the rays were reducing the number of oysters in the area. The oysters were actually being eaten by crabs, which a bat ray will naturally prey upon, that were high in population due to the reduced number of rays from growers trapping them.