The Amazing Flight of Little Ray
December 2018 by V. R. Duin

STINGRAY VENOM
OR STINGRAY POISON?

Little Ray was anything but dumb.
He began swinging like a pendulum.
Upside down, his spine was aimed wrong.
He could fix that — Little Ray was strong!
(“The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”)

A stingray sting, with its stinging barb and stingray venom, also called stingray “poison” by some people, forms part of the action in “The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”.

Do not worry about the bird in this story. Fish stories somehow seem to turn out well. One astonishing fact about stingray venom may seem like another fish story. Ancient Greek dentists used stingray “poison” as an anesthetic. It was extracted from hidden glands at the base of stingrays' stinging barbs. Once extracted from the sacrificed animal, this venomous stingray protein deteriorated quickly. Modern anesthetics with longer shelf-lives are not problem-free. According to an article in BCA Chemistry, where students make chemistry connections, Cocaine initially replaced stingray venom. This local anesthetic proved to be extremely toxic, widely-abused and highly-addictive. Although cocaine continues to receive occasional use as an anesthetic in dentistry, Novocaine replaced it. However, this numbing agent produced strong allergic reactions. Therefore, in modern dentistry, other members of this “Caine Family”, such as Lidocaine and Articaine, have surged to the forefront. Although these drugs are not free of side effects, they are of a plant origin. No stingrays are sacrificed.


Drugs for the treatment include tetanus shots, antibiotics and analgesic drugs to relieve pain. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment may be required for soft tissue necrosis from severe infection. None of these treatments require a loss of consciousness. The patient is awake during treatment, but may not walk away due to life-threatening complications from severe lacerations to major organs, infections or loss of blood. The stinging barb of a young stingray is small and not fully developed. Now, you know why bird may not be feeling pain from Little Ray's stingray sting. However, it should be clear that stingray venom or the stingray's venom delivery system should not be taken lightly. Since it is highly toxic to humans, stingray venom is called stingray “poison” by many people. The wound should be cleaned, submerged in hot water to ease the pain and the bleeding stopped. A kit and additional instructions for stingray injury first aid are available at Ocean Care Solutions. Simple, home remedies are insufficient. There is no antidote or anti-venom medications. Professional medical treatment should be sought. A stingray sting can cause sudden or slow death.


When provoked or startled, the stinging barbs are used for self-defense. Stingrays do not hunt with them. The barbs are attached to the body and are not released like an arrow. Venom, which is delivered by injection, is distinguished by scientists from poison, which must be ingested. A large stingray sting to a vital body part, such as the chest or abdomen, is very dangerous. The stingray venom and the stinging barb can be deadly. The stinging barb is covered with a layer of skin called the sheath, which holds the stingray venom. The sheath is saturated in venom via a gland at the base of the tail. These barbs are not venomous without the sheath. According to an article published by the Accident and Emergency Department of the Welsh Poison Unit, Stingray Injury can result from stepping on a dead and decomposing stingray. However, a stingray's sting can cause severe damage even without the stingray “poison”. The serrated edges run the full length of the barb on both sides. The stinging barb cuts like a knife.


According to Sawfish in GURPS, this ray sports a chainsaw like blade on its nose that can knock holes in boats and cause nasty wounds in humans. The wound made by a large stingray also can be deep. A stingray sting can cause damage to muscles and tendons. The wound made by any stingray can become infected. Often, the stinging barb breaks off, requiring surgery for removal. In battles with a human, a stinging animal is likely to win. The pain and swelling from a stingray wound can be severe, particularly when augmented by the stingray venom, which can cause tissue death. Early warriors made deadly arrowheads, spearheads and daggers, with stingray barbs for the tips. Although the stingray “poison” itself does not have a long shelf-life, these barbaric weapons may be found on display in museums throughout the world. The enormity of these collections indicates these weapons were effective for those warriors. In addition, the muscular tails of large stingrays can be used as cruel and punishing whips. Because of the damage caused, restrictions have been placed on the use of these weapons in today's world.


Although sharks may be immune to stingray venom, a stingray sting requires immediate medical attention for a person. In addition to traumatic wound care, treatment for the stingray “poison” varies with the symptoms: bleeding, chills, delirium, diarrhea, difficulty or cessation of breathing, dizziness, fainting, fever, heart failure, hives, lacerations, muscle cramping, nausea, pain, progressive paralysis, puncture wounds, redness, seizures, shaking, swelling and/or vomiting. Minor effects may last for hours. Medications for allergic reactions may lessen some symptoms, but are not a cure. According to Stingrays in GURPS, the venom is broken down into four parts: neurotoxin, cardiotoxin, necrotoxin and immediate, debilitating pain. The effects are cumulative, progressive and scaled to the size of the victim. Severe envenomation may result in immediate or gradual death. The victim should not be given anything to drink. Liquids may cause aspiration or choking. The victim should be positioned on his or her back with the feet higher than the head. Tight clothing should be loosened and movement discouraged to avoid further irritation and spread of the venom. Without proper medical equipment and training, handling or removal of the stinging barb should not be attempted.


According Dogfish Sharks in GURPS, these sharks are equipped with stinging spines located at the base of the dorsal fin. These sharks feed in packs that may number in the thousands. Careless handling of these small, aggressive sharks may result in envenoming. The injury is likely to be memorable, but it generally may be treated and cured. Even if there is no permanent damage, the fear is likely to remain. These animals cause reputed pain. The lesson to be learned is that not all creatures are friendly. Much like people, animals are what they are. Some of them should be avoided. Most of them will try to avoid people. Never chase a fleeing, stinging creature, unless you work for a medical supply or pharmaceutical company in search of a new medicinal delivery system or property. A stingray's toxic stingray “poison” serves as the last line of defense for stingrays that have stinging barbs. Not all rays are stingrays, because not all rays are equipped to deliver a stingray sting with stingray venom.


Some rays have no special defense mechanisms at all. Manta rays are stingray relatives that have neither stinging barbs nor stingray venom. Manta rays cannot deliver a stingray sting. They use their immense size to frighten away intruders. When this scare tactic fails, manta rays will try to flee from determined predators. The horns on a devil ray and a manta ray are not used for fighting. According to Devil Rays in GURPS, Manta rays are the largest member of this family. They can weigh up to one ton. Devil rays have a name that makes them seem aggressive. However, only one member of this species has a venomous stinging barb. The horns are part of the filter-feeding apparatus that unfolds to funnel plankton, krill and small fish into their mouths. Flight is the first line of defense for these unaggressive, shy fish. Devil rays and manta rays, like most stingrays, are docile. The sole devil ray equipped with stingray “poison” joins all rays with its preference to flee rather than defend itself.


Electric rays stun prey and predators with electric shock. Electric rays can scale their shock levels depending upon whether they want to deter or kill a potential predator. This potent shock renders these animals virtually fearless. The shock from an electric ray may knock a human or large animal down, causing death by drowning. Otherwise, the shock is likely to be painful, but not deadly to healthy, large victims. Like electric rays, catfish and eels have electric shock ability. The defense mechanism of electric shock is as deadly as the stingray “poison” from a stingray sting to the animals on which electric rays dine. A large electric ray is capable of killing some sharks. A breakdown of electric jolt by size is available at Electric Rays in GURPS. As with stingray venom, the electric charges omitted by these animals are of interest to humans. Electric ray charges have been used throughout the ages as experimental cures and instruments of torture. However, these electric fish largely are disinterested in humans.


To attack, as shown in the above illustration from “The Amazing Flight of Little Ray”, a stingray swings its tail over its body to jab upwardly with its venomous stinging barb. The death of Australian naturalist Steve Irwin by a stingray sting from an Australian bull ray was unfortunate. Mr. Irwin was swimming in shallow water above a stingray. This may have interfered with the stingray's perceived escape route and provoked self-defense. Rarely are stingray stings fatal. Stingrays are not automatic stinging machines. One or two deaths from stingrays are reported on average, throughout the world over the course of one year. Rarely is death caused by stingray venom. The stingray's knife-like stinging barb speared Mr. Irwin in the chest, killing him almost instantly. Fishermen may be similarly skewered in vital body parts while trying to release their stingray catches. Stingray stinging injuries are typically made to the feet or legs of a person wading in shallow water. While swimming among stingrays, never touch the tail area, where the stinging barb is located. This may provoke an attack and envenomation by stingray “poison”.


Stingrays prefer to flee because, stingray venom lasts for only one sting. If a venomous stinging barb breaks off during the attack, it takes a long time to grow back. The stinging barbs also wear out, so stingrays continually are growing new ones. New barbs generally push the old barbs off. However, multiple barbs may stack on top of each other. Foot and Ankle Online Journal provides a Stingray Envenomation of the Foot: a Case Report indicating that envenomation by stingray “poison” occurs in up to 75% of cases. However, the stinging barb only breaks off and remains in the wound in 5% of cases. Stingrays are luckier than honey bees. Stingrays may keep stinging when their stingray venom is depleted. This is unfortunate for the victim, because further tissue or organ damage is caused with each stingray sting. When honey bees sting a mammal, their stingers cannot be withdrawn without ripping off large sections of their abdomens. This causes these bees to die almost instantly. Other bees, ants, hornets, yellow jackets and wasps survive their stings, as do scorpions. As with stingray stings, these creatures do not suffer massive abdominal ruptures after stinging. Like stingrays, these stinging creatures live to sting, again and again. Unlike stingrays, some of these creatures sting their animal prey to immobilize it for dining purposes.


The venoms delivered by ants, bees, hornets, wasps, scorpions and yellow jackets are different from the stingray venom delivered with stingray stings. However, all of these creatures have tails with stingers to inject their venom. As with stingray “poison”, the venoms delivered by ants, bees, wasps, hornets, scorpions and yellow jackets can be deadly to humans. A stinging barb may be left behind by these stinging animals. Stingers from these creatures must be removed during wound treatment. Radiographic evaluation may be required to find small stinger parts remaining in the puncture wound. The toxins from any of these stinging animals can cause allergic reactions that may require hospitalization. A group of sharks is called a shiver, which makes sense. Many people shiver just to think of the damage sharks can cause. A group of stingrays is called a fever, which also makes sense. A fever can result from infections caused by a stingray's stinging barb or as a reaction to the stingray venom. The Sarasota Department of Health monitors for Bacteria that may enter the body with wounds or by swallowing seawater. Victims who delay treatment may experience deadly or long-term complications from these pathogens.


The toxins from jellyfish remain after these creatures tear apart or die. The stings come from tentacles that look like streaming tails. Different species of box jellyfish live warm coastal waters throughout the world. The lethal species of box jellyfish typically live in the waters of Northern Australia. Stingray venom pales by comparison. Box jellies are found in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and in nearby waters in the Pacific ocean. More people are killed by box jellies than by sharks or stingray stings. Box jellyfish also are called sea wasps and marine stingers. Most jellyfish travel by floating on currents. They do not swim with their tentacles. To move through the water, box jellies use body contractions that pump in water, then push it out. Prey gets caught in the nearly invisible tentacles dangling behind these invertebrates that are not fish. Jellyfish have no brains, no backbones and no intentions of being aggressive. Box jellies are considered among the most venomous animals in the world. Few human victims make it back to shore. By comparison, ingested or wound penetrating water-borne pathogens and deadly flesh-eating bacteria are more likely to kill a person than stingray “poison”.


The most deadly creature in the world is the non-venomous mosquito. The World Health Organization provides an Executive Summary of Insect-Borne Diseases. Most people bitten by the world's most dangerous insect suffer an itchy bump. However, the blood-eating mosquito is responsible for diseases that kill several million people and sicken hundreds of millions of others, each year. Female mosquitoes feed on blood to aid in egg production. The saliva of this insect contains anti-clogging properties, as does that of vampire bats. When this saliva enters the bloodstream of the host, it can transmit deadly bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases to people and animals. There are many different types of mosquitoes. Only female mosquitoes bite. Male mosquitoes feed on fruit and flower nectar. Electrical, chemical and magnetic repellents may not live up to the claims of warding off sharks. Mosquito repellents may work better than those for more highly feared, but less noxious beasts. A simple shuffling motion may ward off stingray stings with accompanying stingray “poison”. Avoidance is easier and better than aggressive cure of puncture wounds or the effects of stingray venom.

Stingray Stings

  • stingray stings Little Ray says:

    For information after stingray stings and envenomation by stingray “poison”in the United States, call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • stingray venom Little Ray says:

    Stephen Robert “Steve” Irwin died from trauma and stingray venom, but his enthusiasm for wildlife remains, thanks to his family and documentaries co-hosted with his wife.

    • stinging barbLittle Ray says:

      Any stingray with a stinging barb can sting, even the babies, so beware when entering or moving through water.