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Saltwater Ray Husbandry

By Adam Blundell M.S.

Author’s note: this article is not intended to encourage overzealous hobbyists in purchasing rays. Rather, this article is intended to describe the husbandry requirements for committed hobbyists with a great desire to care for such wonderful animals.

Elasmobranches are fascinating creatures. They have stirred the interest of man for literally thousands of years, and are well documented for hundreds of years in cultural foods, paintings, dances, superstitions, reverence, folklore, fear, respect, and many other forms. In general the word “shark” conjures up vivid thoughts and feelings, but their lesser-known kin, the rays, are every bit as mysterious.
The stingray family Dasyatidae numbers about 70 species in nine genera, some of which are not only suitably sized for home aquaria but can actually thrive when cared for properly.
(Editors note: while some of the Dasyatidae inhabit freshwater rivers, most are saltwater fish, and this family should not be confused with the strictly freshwater stingray family Potamotrygonidae widely kept by freshwater aquarists.)
Though they are not commonly traded, the smaller Myliobatidae, such as bat rays, can also be kept in a proper system. Because they aren’t widely sold, hobbyists often jump at the opportunity to purchase these rays even though they are large fish and require a lot of open space if they are to feel at home. As with any potential livestock purchases, it’s important to spend time doing your research so that you can be sure you’re prepared for them.


Unsurprisingly, one of the key requirements for success with stingrays is surface area, or more specifically open surface area at the bottom of the tank. You will need to provide them with a tank that has a long and broad swimming area free of rockwork.
This need for open swimming space at the bottom of the tank is important… very important! For many years this requirement kept rays out of the spotlight, but that is changing. Just a decade ago a 125-gallon aquarium was considered large. Nowadays you can find a hobbyist with an aquarium over 500 gallons in just about every major city. Marine aquaria more than 4-feet long are commonplace, and even tanks above 10 feet in length are not unusual.
Clean water is also important. Most rays eat large food items and produce a lot of waste, but are very sensitive to dissolved metabolites. Having biological filtration (i.e., live rock and live sand) to convert the ammonia quickly into less toxic forms is necessary. Therefore the old thought of a “fish only” system having plastic rocks and a trickle filter is fading fast. Advanced hobbyists keeping rays nowadays keep them in reef tanks with many inhabitants where there is much life to consume and convert fish wastes from toxic forms into less toxic forms.
The third most important item for ray care is safety. Worry not about what damage your ray will do to your reef; worry about what damage your reef will do to your ray! Unsuitable tank mates (described below) can damage rays, and so can thoughtless aquascaping. It is very important to secure all rockwork: tumbling rocks and corals can severely injure a ray.

Saltwater Ray Husbandry


Large swimming areas with open substrate


Clean water with biological filtration


Safety (tankmates and aquascaping)

Tank Mates
Be prepared for a surprise. The average (and even above average) hobbyist views most rays and sharks as solitary tank inhabitants. “Oh it will eat that” is the response to just about every tank mate option. Not true!
Not surprisingly they often do well with other rays or even sharks. But surprisingly they often do well with other reef fishes and ornamental invertebrates.
Yes, you read that correctly. Many rays will eat dead fishes, or chopped up shrimp and scallops and octopus and squid… but will live in harmony with other reef fishes and invertebrates.
Even smaller fishes such as many gobies or anemonefishes will do fine with rays. Cleaning shrimp can become a meal for rays, but if put in the tank before the ray the shrimp will often live peacefully providing their service as a cleaning shrimp rather than as a meal.
Some fishes should be avoided as tank mates for rays. Not because they are a potential meal for the ray, but because they will potentially prey on the ray! Triggerfishes, eels, and even large angelfishes can pick on rays and nibble on their long fleshy tails. This harassment and damage can lead to the death of the ray. Along those same lines invertebrates with large claws (i.e. some lobsters) are also to be avoided.


Proper Species for Captivity
I’m going strictly off the experience of others for this section. The information presented here are the rays I’ve personally seen doing well in captive care, and those well documented by Scott Michael.
Rays Known to do well in captivity:

Best Saltwater Rays for Home Aquaria

(mostly from Michael 2001)

Cortez Stingray

Urobatis maculatus

Round Stingray

Urobatis halleri

Bullseye Stingray

Urobatis concentricus

Yellow Stringray

Urobatis jamaicensis

Rays Needing At Least 500 Gallons

and 16 Square Feet of Substrate Surface Area

Bluespotted Stingray

Dasyatis kuhlii

Bluespotted Ribbontail

Taeniura lymma

Southern Stingray

Dasyatis americana

Atlantic Stingray

Dasyatis sabina

Bat Ray

Myliobatis californica

While the average hobbyist and average aquarium may not be suited for rays, it is certainly possible to care for these animals in an appropriately designed aquarium. Several species are particular well suited to home aquaria, especially with the growing trend towards large (over 500 gallon) aquaria ideally suited to these demanding fish.
The key to keeping marine rays is advanced planning. By constructing an aquarium of the appropriate size and style, a home aquarist can develop a rewarding and long-lasting relationship with a variety of ray species.


This article is dedicated to my dear friend Scott Michael. His love for the elasmobranchs is truly inspiring, and as the world’s leading authority on these animals he has brought much attention to them in our hobby, the industry, and to conservation efforts. Simply thanking Scott for his contributions in this field would not be enough…


Further Reading
Michael, S., (2001). Aquarium Sharks & Rays, T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey, USA.

  • A bat ray (Myliobatis sp.) comes to the surface for feeding time in a home aquarium (© Adam Blundell)
  • This small goby lives peacefully in a tank with over a dozen rays (© Adam Blundell)
  • Rays of different species can be kept together in captivity (© Adam Blundell)
  • Spotted rays Dasyatis kuhlii are perfectly suited for the home aquarium (© Adam Blundell)
  • Like spotted rays, southern rays Dasyatis americana are friendly, mostly reef safe, and very beautiful species well suited to the properly designed aquarium (© Adam Blundell)
  • This aquarium holds about 900 gallons and provides plenty of swimming room for a dozen rays. Notice the aquascaping features a central location (with corals even) that allows the rays to swim in open water over a surrounding sand bed (© Adam Blundell)
  • Shown here an aquarist has drawn on his living room wall where the new aquarium will go. Proper planning for a ray tank is incredibly important. This aquarist made sure to design a proper system before cutting out his living room wall (© Adam Blundell)
  • At first site this reef tank looks like a terrible home for of all things a bluespotted ribbontail ray, Taeniura lymma (© Adam Blundell)
  • Upon closer inspection you can see that the aquascaping is actually held on a framework above the substrate (© Adam Blundell)
  • The raised reef allows the bluespotted ribbontail ray to swim over the sandy substrate (© Adam Blundell)
  • A side view shows the ray coming out from under the rockwork (© Adam Blundell)


WWM on Rays, Skates, Guitarfishes

Related Articles: Rays, Freshwater Stingrays, Wounds Articles, Sharks, Cartilaginous Fishes

Related FAQs: Batoids 1, Batoid Identification, Batoid Behavior, Batoid Compatibility, Batoid Selection, Batoid Systems, Batoid Feeding, Batoid Disease, Batoid Reproduction, Shark, Ray Eggs, Wound Management, Freshwater Stingrays: FW Stingray Identification, FW Stingray Behavior, FW Stingray Compatibility, FW Stingray Selection, FW Stingray Systems, FW Stingray Feeding, FW Stingray Disease, FW Stingray Reproduction,


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