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If you’ve ever been to an aquarium, you might have experienced stingrays firsthand at a touch tank. These are controlled systems where visitors can extend their hands into the water with the hopes that a stingray will swim by to be touched. These stingrays have had their barbs removed and have been acclimated to being touched, making this a safe and fun experience for both parties.
The fish featured in these tanks are usually common species of saltwater stingrays, like Atlantic stingrays (Dasyatis sabina). But did you know that freshwater stingrays exist too? In fact, freshwater stingrays are some of the largest freshwater species of fish known to scientists. They are sometimes kept in the aquarium hobby, but only by those with massive aquariums.
- Freshwater stingrays are very personable fish that can be an aquarium option for some hobbyists.
- These fish require large aquarium setups with ample filtration. They also need a wide variety of live and frozen food options.
- Freshwater stingrays can be kept with other stingrays, but don’t do well when mixed with upper water level swimmers.
- Surprisingly, freshwater rays are able and willing to mate in captivity. However, raising the pups takes a lot of space and dedication.
|Common Names||Freshwater stingray, River stingray|
|Colors||Black, brown, yellow|
|Family||Potamotrygonidae family, Dasyatidae family|
|Origin||South America, Africa, Australia, Asia|
|Minimum Tank Size||300 gallons|
|Temperature Range||75 – 82° F|
|Water Hardness||6 – 14 dGH|
|pH Range||6.5 – 7.5|
|Difficulty to Breed||Moderate|
|OK, for Planted Tanks?||No|
Stingrays aren’t just for your local aquarium. Given the right tank setup, these massive fish–yes, they’re fish–can be kept in your home. That isn’t to say they’re easy to keep, though.
There are about 35 known species of freshwater stingray. This is only a fraction of the number of discovered saltwater stingrays, which surpasses 200 individual species. Freshwater stingrays are largely categorized into two separate scientific families: the Potamotrygonidae family and the Dasyatidae family.
Members of the Potamotrygonidae family are found only in South America. This group contains the majority of known freshwater stingrays and subsequently some of the most popular Amazonian species available. The Dasyatidae family, commonly known as the whiptail stingrays, includes species from across Africa, Asia, and Australia. These fish get their name from their very long tails, which are longer than the width of their bodies.
You may know this already, but stingrays are actually elasmobranchs, meaning that they’re very closely related to sharks and skates. This means that they have a cartilaginous skeleton. Stingrays should not be confused with skates. Skates do not occur in freshwater or brackish water, have shorter stubbier tails, and often broader pectoral fins. Skates aren’t available for sale in the aquarium trade.
But can you have a pet freshwater stingray?
Yes! You can have freshwater stingrays in your aquarium only if you have the means to keep them. These are large, messy fish that are demanding in filtration and space. They need a high-protein diet with tons of variety and frequency. Both freshwater and saltwater stingrays have been kept in the aquarium, but freshwater rays tend to be more popular and readily available.
Saltwater vs. Freshwater
Before you buy a stingray, you should know everything there is to know about them. These are expensive, demanding fish, that oftentimes require a permit to own. Always make sure to check with your local laws about owning a freshwater or saltwater stingray1.
There are a few major differences between freshwater and saltwater stingrays which largely arise from the conditions they live in.
Freshwater stingrays have neutral colors, usually consisting of blacks, browns, and yellows. These colors are great representations of the natural murky river water conditions these rays originate from. In contrast, saltwater stingrays are lighter in color and often feature blue accents that help them blend into the bottom of the sea bed.
Both freshwater and saltwater stingrays can grow to massive sizes. However, the largest freshwater stingray size ever recorded was a 661-lb giant freshwater stingray (Urogymnus polylepis).
Are freshwater stingrays venomous?
Yes, both freshwater and saltwater stingrays are venomous. These fish have a very hard cartilaginous venomous barb on their tails that they use for protection. As stingrays live on the bottom of the substrate, they need a way to protect themselves from predators above them, like their main threat of sharks.
Most times, stingrays won’t resort to using their barbs if they don’t have to. This is a defense mechanism that is used if they are about to be stepped on or eaten. The barb is sealed with venom which breaks open when hit into another object. Along with the stingray venom, pieces of the barb may also get stuck in the opposing threat.
Though freshwater stingray venom secreted by the barb is not immediately deadly to humans, the trauma caused by the puncture can be. Saltwater and freshwater stingray barbs can be removed from the tail by professionals but will need to be clipped or removed again in a few months. In general, practicing stingray safety is a better option than intentionally hurting the fish in an aquarium setting.
Origins And Habitat
Different freshwater stingray species may sometimes be grouped under the larger umbrella term of river stingray. This is because these monster bottom-dwellers lurk on the bottom of freshwater rivers and canals all across the world!
Freshwater stingrays can be found on every continent besides Antarctica; members of the Dasyatidae family originate from Africa, Asia, and Australia while Potamotrygonidae are confined to South America.
These stingrays have perfectly adapted to a wide variety of environmental conditions, especially those found in flooded forest areas. They can be found in slow-moving or fast waters, clear or murky conditions, shallow or deep water levels, and smooth or rocky bottoms. A few species live close to coastal regions that allow them to wander into brackish and saltwater conditions for short periods.
As we’ll see, the colors and patterns on each species of stingray can tell a lot about their natural habitat.
Freshwater stingrays are very easy to distinguish from other rays in saltwater. This is especially true as most species have been bred to show the best color combinations possible.
Many freshwater stingray species available in the aquarium trade are Potamotrygon species. Here are some of the most common species of river stingray you’re likely to come across for sale from specialized breeders:
Black diamond stingray (Potamotrygon leopoldi). Also known as the Xingu River ray or polka-dot stingray, the black diamond stingray originates from the Xingu River basin in Brazil. These fish can grow to be 16 inches in width and feature a dark black body with many small yellowish-white dispersed spots across the back and onto the tail. They originate from clear waterways with rocky substrates.
Ocellate river stingray (Potamotrygon motoro). The ocellate river stingray is commonly known as the motoro stingray, black river stingray, or peacock-eye stingray. This freshwater stingray has a wide distribution across most of northern South America. Depending on where your Potamotrygon motoro originates from, its appearance can vary greatly in terms of color and pattern. In general, these stingrays have a light or dark base color with light yellow spots encircled in darker brown. The ocellate stingray can grow to be nearly 2 feet in width.
Pearl stingray (Potamotrygon jabuti). Not to be confused with its saltwater counterpart, the pearl stingray (Dasyatis margaritella), freshwater pearl stingrays originate from a particular river system in Brazil called the Tapajós River. They are similar in appearance to the ocellate river stingray but have many more bordered circles across their bodies. When looking at these spots, you will notice that the center is yellowish-white. This is surrounded by a darker ring that is then enclosed by another lighter ring. Pearl stingrays are very likely to exhibit albinism.
How Big Do They Get?
Freshwater stingrays are huge fish. So much so that they’re regarded as monster fish.
As mentioned before, the largest freshwater stingray was a giant stingray that weighed over 600 lbs and measured 13 feet long. While most captive-bred stingrays stay well under this extreme, keeping freshwater stingrays is no easy task.
Most freshwater stingray species grow to be at least a foot in width and even bigger in length. Males don’t grow as large as females, which can be desirable for hobbyists more limited in space. Males can easily be distinguished by the two claspers that fall under their tails.
While juvenile stingrays might look manageable to keep in a smaller aquarium, these fish should never be kept in anything that’s not fit for their adult size!
Are freshwater stingrays hard to take care of?
Yes, freshwater stingrays can be challenging to take care of. Though these fish have been successfully captive-bred, they are still extremely sensitive to incorrect and fluctuating water parameters. Adult fish also grow to extreme sizes, which can be difficult to house and feed.
In general, any species of freshwater stingray should only be kept by expert hobbyists.
Freshwater rays are bottom-dwellers that will rarely leave the comfort of the bottom of the tank. Because of this, they need more horizontal space than vertical space.
Adult freshwater stingrays require a tank that is at least 8 x 4 feet. These dimensions will comfortably fit a pair of moderately-sized species. A 6 x 3 foot aquarium can temporarily house young freshwater stingray pups, but this should never become more than temporary housing.
Keeping freshwater stingrays is an oxymoron: they are very difficult fish to keep but don’t actually require an intricate aquarium setup. A stingray tank needs to be big with plenty of space and water volume.
In terms of decoration, the less the better. If there’s anything that your stingray could possibly injure itself on in the tank, it will find a way. Rocks, driftwood, and other typical aquarium decorations should not be added. The tank should be fully bare to allow for the most swimming space and the least risk of injury.
Freshwater stingrays require pristine water quality at all times. That isn’t to say freshwater stingrays aren’t hardy, but water parameters can change quickly in a stingray tank.
Stingrays are very messy fish that eat a lot and create a lot of waste in return. Not only does a ton of ammonia enter the water column from uneaten food and waste, but stingrays have also evolved to release ammonia from their body for osmoregulation.
Stingrays originated from saltwater conditions and adapted to freshwater over time. They managed to do this by evolving rectal glands that excrete excess urea and ammonia produced in the body to create a balance between internal and external pressures. As a result, ammonia spikes in the water.
Freshwater stingrays cannot tolerate ammonia and can quickly succumb to incorrect water parameters. Ammonia and nitrite should always remain at 0 ppm. Nitrate should always stay under 40 ppm.
To keep up with this influx, frequent water changes are required. Some stingray owners perform daily 60-70% water changes. How often you need to clean your stingray tank will be determined by the overall water volume available, the number of stingrays in the aquarium, and how often and how much they are fed.
One water parameter freshwater stingrays are more tolerable of is pH. This is because some species of freshwater stingray regularly move between freshwater, brackish, and saltwater conditions where pH is constantly fluctuating. In general, the preferred pH for freshwater stingrays is between 6.5 and 7.5. As long as the level stays stable though, they are likely able to adapt to values outside this range.
As freshwater stingrays originate from tropical regions, water temperature should always remain between 75 and 82° F.
Filtration and Aeration
The most important part of a freshwater stingray tank is the filtration. These fish need huge filtration, meaning that a sump filtration system is often the best pick.
A sump allows for the most water volume possible, which is essential due to freshwater stingrays excreting ammonia directly into the water column. External filtration systems also allows for space to keep aquarium equipment out of the display, which could become dangerous for curious rays; a tank heater can easily burn fins and tails!
In addition to being nocturnal, freshwater stingrays are sensitive to high lighting. As these fish can’t be kept with live plants due to them rummaging through the substrate, there is no reason to keep them under intense lighting.
Next to filtration, the substrate is a very important consideration for a freshwater stingray tank. There is some debate as to what is the right substrate for these fish.
Many stingray owners choose to keep a bare-bottom stingray display. This helps keep the tank clean, prevents the rays from kicking up the substrate, and exposes any shed stingray barbs that could become dangerous to handlers. On the other hand, a fine sand, like pool filter sand, can help stingrays show their true personalities.
No matter if you choose to keep a substrate or not in your freshwater stingray aquarium, there should never be any sharp edges that could injure your ray. This eliminates gravel and other larger rocks.
We label our stingrays as aggressive, but these are actually gentle giants. As we’ll see, they’re labeled as aggressive because they can’t be safely kept with many other species.
Instead, stingrays are relaxed yet inquisitive. Most, if not all, species of freshwater stingrays are nocturnal, which means that they’ll be most active at night. Otherwise, they are likely to be found gliding along the tank floor and over each other in an attempt to find food.
The best tank mates for freshwater stingrays are none. Stingrays are predators which means they’re always looking for their next meal, even if not intentionally. This means that any slow or small fish in the aquarium can quickly become a snack. At the same time, larger fish species can pick on rays and cause them injury.
If planning to keep tank mates with freshwater stingrays, be prepared for a lot of trial and error. Some hobbyists have had luck keeping smaller rays with oscar fish, but this will be entirely dependent on the individual fish.
In general, the best tank mates for freshwater stingrays are other freshwater stingrays. These fish enjoy each other’s company, especially if they’re captive-bred. It’s best to mix the same species or similar species that come from the same regions of a river system to match preferred water parameters. Keep in mind that each stingray tank mate carries a ton of bioload along with them!
Freshwater stingrays will eat anything–that is, once you get them acclimated to your tank. A new freshwater stingray may be picky when introduced into your aquarium, especially if it is wild-caught.
If your wild-caught stingray refuses to eat prepared foods, then offer live and frozen foods once a day followed by prepared foods. Your freshwater stingray should eventually begin to accept prepared foods more willingly.
Otherwise, these fish eat anything you give them. They need a wide variety of foods, mainly consisting of live and frozen options. Some hobbyists find that a high-protein sinking carnivore pellet, like those from Hikari, is readily accepted by young rays. Once they get bigger, you will need to start preparing your own food options.
Some of the best stingray food options include blackworms, earthworms, insects, mysis shrimp, raw shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, and other pieces of white fish. These options can be frozen together to make protein-packed cubes that make for easy feeding. Leftover food should be immediately removed to keep water quality pristine.
Always make sure to watch your freshwater stingray eat before taking it home from the fish store!
Breeding freshwater stingrays is possible in the home aquarium and rays are usually eager to begin if given the right conditions. Male and female stingrays can easily be told apart. Male stingrays are smaller and have specialized pelvic fins called claspers that are used for reproduction. Interestingly, female stingrays have two uteruses which allow them to have multiple litters from different males.
Once a pair has been established in an adequately-sized and well-fed aquarium, the pair will mate. Freshwater stingrays are ovoviviparous, which means that eggs are fertilized and hatched all while inside the female. Young freshwater stingray pups are then birthed live.
Once they have been birthed, the pups should be removed to their own tank and raised on high-quality foods.
Freshwater stingrays may not be the first fish species on your list to keep in your home aquarium setup. But if you have the space and filtration, then these are some of the most interesting fish to keep! They require a large aquarium and can’t be kept with other tank mates, but they have very fun and very unexpected personalities.
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I’m thrilled that you found Aquarium Store Depot! Here you’ll find information on fish, aquariums, and all things aquatics related. I’m a hobbyist (being doing this since I was 11) and here to help other hobbyists thrive with their aquariums!