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
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
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
Not surprisingly they often do well with other rays or even sharks. But
surprisingly they often do well with other reef fishes and ornamental
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:
Saltwater Rays for Home Aquaria
(mostly from Michael 2001)
Needing At Least 500 Gallons
16 Square Feet of Substrate Surface Area
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…
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 (©
- Rays of different species can be kept together in captivity (© Adam
- 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
- 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
WWM on Rays, Skates, Guitarfishes
Batoids 1, Batoid
Wound Management, Freshwater