Little Ray and Mama Ray
May 2018 by V. R. Duin

MAMA RAY AND STINGRAY BABIES

Knowing Little Ray to be brave and young,
Mama Ray managed to hold her tongue.
After all, her boy would never ever know
What he could do without giving things a go.
( “The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”)

In this month in which mothers are celebrated, we also celebrate mothers in this series of stingray and shark stories for children. Little Ray and his Mama Ray provide a perfect introduction into the ocean life of mother stingrays and their stingray babies.

In “The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”, it is clear that without Mama Ray, there could be no stingray stories for children. Mama Ray represents the love, care and protection to which great mothers aspire. Without Little Ray, there would be less intrigue and less adventure to ocean life. Since stingrays live for fifteen to twenty-five years, stingray babies take a while to reach full maturity. All stingrays are born live. At birth, stingray spines are flexible and may be covered in a sheath to protect the mother during delivery. The sheath sloughs off within hours of birth. Little Ray does not face any risk from his Mama Ray. Some stingray pups remain under the care of their mother stingrays during their early years of life. Others are born into independence. Deep water ocean stingray mothers and manta rays abandon their babies after birth. Father rays abandon the mother after mating. Multiple males may chase down a female to mate successively with her.

Some species of sharks are born live, while others hatch from abandoned eggs. Those baby sharks that are born live are left to fend for themselves. Like its stingray cousin, a shark “pup” (baby) is born to ocean life ready to take care of itself. It may be a good thing for shark babies to hatch at a distance from their mothers, because mother sharks may eat their babies upon birth. Shark embryos face the risk of cannibalism by siblings. The first shark embryos to break from their eggs may cannibalize the others. Within the mother shark's womb, early-born, large embryos may feed on less developed embryos or eggs. Shark pregnancies may start with several eggs. At birth, the surviving one or two siblings have the advantage of size to survive. According to the Reefquest Centre for Shark Research, there is evidence of intrauterine cannibalism in Sandtiger Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Crocodile Sharks and Basking Sharks, among other species.

Shark and stingray babies are called “pups”. If mother stingrays or sharks have more than one pup, they are called “litters” One or more young stingrays are born to mother stingrays each year. The first pregnancy usually results in one pup. The number of babies in the “litter” can be from one to twelve, depending upon the size and species of the mother stingray. Sharks can have from one to one hundred babies. More babies are born outside the bodies of egg-laying sharks than are carried inside the bodies of mother sharks for live births. Some species of sharks do not start making babies until they are well past the average life span of mother stingrays. Mother stingrays move to a safe area to give birth. In The Amazing Flight of Little Ray, Mama Ray has only one stingray baby. The illustrations show her to be small and young. The story shows this mother stingray to be wise about ocean life. It is hoped that mothers everywhere will know what is best for their children.

Female stingrays and sharks have one opening, the cloaca, to serve for reproduction, waste excretion and urination. The cloaca is located between the pelvic fins, beneath the female's body. Male stingrays and sharks have two claspers, each of which is located beneath the body on one of the two pelvic fins. The claspers deposit sperm into the cloacas of mother stingrays and sharks. Only one clasper is used at a time. Which one is used depends upon which side of the female the male makes his approach. For insemination, the male must insert one clasper into the female's cloaca. This insertion is done via the right clasper when the male approaches from the left side of the female. The left clasper is used when the male approaches from the right side of the female. The female has only one cloaca. The male bites the female, then flips her over during mating. The claspers have spurs to hold the organ in place during insemination. It is not a pleasurable ocean life encounter for a Mama Ray or shark.

On land or in water, it is generally unsafe to get between a nurturing mother and her baby. Until they are about three years old, a mother stingray may protect her stingray babies while they practice hunting for their own food. To protect their calves, cows shove, push and butt intruders with their heads. Mother whales use these same tactics to protect their calves. Size offers a huge advantage for a mother whale. Mama Ray's cousin, a mother manta ray, uses frightening size for defense. Unlike mother stingrays, manta rays have no stingers for protection in ocean life. They may charge at perceived predators and head butt or body slam them in self-defense. Sheer immensity of size may scare off some predators. However, against aggressive attackers, mantas will flee with their tails whipping to deter attack. Manta rays typically are solitary animals. Stingrays tend to be protective of those in their care, and may form protective groups. Some sharks band together, while others are full-time, solitary predators.

Like mama dogs, Little Ray's Mama Ray is likely to charge at an intruder. Both mothers have additional natural weapons with which to defend their pups. Mother stingrays have venomous stinging barbs. Mama dogs have fangs. An unwise position in ocean life might get an intruder eaten by a mother shark, before she eats her shark pup. Fish attacks may come without a warning sound. Mother stingrays are not known to eat their stingray babies. Children will see hints of the motherly care and concern for their own lives in the example of Little Ray's stingray mother. Fish do not have facial expressions, but their actions can be clear indicators of their levels of distress or contentedness. Mama Ray worries about Little Ray's youthful vulnerabilities. Little Ray would prefer to have his social problems go away. Stingrays are not mindless stinging machines. They only strike to defend themselves. Baby stingrays and manta rays are born with miniature adult features. They can fend for themselves.

In ocean life, there are no kittens to be protected by their mothers. Baby catfish are called “fry”, not kittens. Generally, they must fend for themselves after hatching from the thousands of eggs laid by the mother. Some fish guard their eggs. These same fish may eat their own eggs, if they are about to be eaten by another fish. A Mama Ray and shark will have many different mates over the course of their lifetimes. Shark and stingray babies are unlikely to meet their fathers. In some fish, the father carries the eggs. Male marine catfish carry a clutch of golf-ball sized eggs in their mouths until they hatch. Mama Catfish and the fry must be grateful to Papa for this assistance! Baby seahorses also are called fry. The father seahorse carries the eggs in a pouch, until they hatch. Once the eggs hatch, the fry from both of these species of fish are on their own. Some seahorse parents may mate for life to defend each other and their lineage.

The best-known cubs among ocean life are those of polar bears. These bears are at the top of the food chain and at the top of the world in their frigid climes. Their only predators are armed humans. No other creature dares walk or swim among mama polar bears, be these with or without babies. Mother stingrays, with or without their stingray babies, do not venture into polar bear country. The water is too cold for a Mama Ray or her babies. Some species of sharks have a low metabolic rate that may allow them to endure sparse and frigid climates throughout long lives. Mothers typically want to live and give birth where it is best for their offspring. Some parents make the ultimate sacrifice for their young. Male octopuses die after fertilizing the female's eggs. Female octopuses live long enough to give birth.

Like the little pet fish in an aquarium, a fish bowl or a fish pond, stingray babies can jump out of the water. Mother stingrays prefer their babies spend time hunting for food and hiding from predators, rather than trying to fly like birds. However, a full spectrum of skills is encouraged by mother stingrays. Taking flight can provide a safety mechanism for stingray babies. For shark babies, whether they are airborne or the in water, their own mothers can be the predators. In “The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”, to not discourage Little Ray's achievement, Mama Ray allowed her son to “test his wings”. Learning is an important part of ocean life, just as it is for children on land. Many land and sea animals must fend for themselves from birth.

We do not know Mama Ray's reaction after Little Ray returned to the sea “on a wing and a prayer”. However, his friends are forever pleased with his safe return to his welcoming sea. Moreover, it should be clear why Little Ray loves his Mama Ray and his ocean life. Mama Ray helps everyone understand the many ways that good mother stingrays take care of their stingray babies. Good parenting skills help all youngsters to safely live their lives. Around their mothers, shark babies have to be fast and lucky. Good mothers everywhere have an example in Mama Ray. Thanks to Mama Ray, ocean life is pretty good for Little Ray. Children are sure to recognize the importance of the mothers in their lives. Many animals have no opportunity to meet their mothers or their fathers. They face the world without any help from their parents.

Mother Stingrays

  • Mama Ray admin says:

    A Mama Ray does not abandon her babies.

  • Stingray babies admin says:

    Children also learn about the natural defenses of stingray babies from Little Ray's ocean life stories.

    • Ocean Lifeadmin says:

      In discussions of ocean life, it is important to include mother stingrays, since they are protective of their babies.