Ocellate river stingray (captive), © Steven G. Johnson

The Other Kind of Stingray

International effort gathers support for protecting freshwater stingray species from over-exploitation in international trade.

When we think of stingrays we often think of oceanic stingrays, shuffling our feet as we enter the water to avoid getting stung. But, did you know there is also an entire family of freshwater stingrays that are native to South American rivers? This family, Potamotrygonidae, includes 25 different species of freshwater stingray. One of those species – the Ocellate River Stingray – is unfortunately in enough trouble to be on the docket for discussion at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) this fall.

Ornamental Fish Trade

Ocellate River Stingrays can grow to be about 16 inches from the front of their disc to the end of their tails. They have grey-brown bodies, and their pattern of orange-yellow spots encircled by black rings makes them easy to identify. Like their marine cousins, they have a stinger on their end of their tail. They’re fascinating creatures – but their size and coloring have made them popular in the ornamental fish trade. They are bought as pets, but also for display in tanks at anything from restaurants to commercial aquariums.
Because of the demand for this species, thousands of stingrays are harvested and traded each year, mainly from Colombia, Peru and Brazil. And while they are shipped to locations around the world, the majority of these stingrays are destined for the ornamental fish trade in Germany, the United States, Taiwan and Japan.

An Upstream Battle

The freshwater stingray family has been a topic of discussion and concern in various CITES meetings since 2004, when Brazil first considered listing the entire Potamotrygonidae family. Since then, two workshops of international experts have been convened, one in 2009 and one in 2014, to study this family of stingrays and share the latest research and information. This year, Bolivia has proposed listing the Ocellate River Stingray under CITES Appendix II, focusing on this species in particular because out of the 25, we have the most information on it, and know that it is most impacted by trade.

The U.S. is one of the markets driving this species toward extinction – we have an obligation to be part of the solution as well. Since our international team works so closely with South American countries, we are joining the effort to advocate for this proposal to be adopted at CITES this fall. Only by putting clear limits on how these creatures can be traded can we ensure that they continue to swim in South America’s rivers for generations.

Of Trade and Tree-Climbing Lizards

In the cloud forests of Mexico and Central America, habitat loss and exploitation for the pet trade are driving several rare, tree-dwelling lizards towards extinction. Discover the story of another species our team will be championing at CITES this year.

Learn More »

3 Responses to “The Other Kind of Stingray”

  1. Bryan Kirshon

    Rays belong to the group of cartilaginous fish with sharks and skates this species the ocellated river stingray has a beautiful pattern there is the issue the color is striking so they are in trouble one of 25 freshwater species and what I never noticed before is the stinger at the end of the animals tail i thought it was underneath at the base just check out how these aquatic creatures are designed sort of flat with a long tail a ray is a good terminology or classification cheers the defenders of wildlife action center is on the website hope to see you there

  2. Kristen Witt

    I’m familiar with the white-blotched river stingray. I’ve seen them in a video game and at the Living Planet Aquarium, but I have no desire to have one as a pet. If I want to see them, I can just play Endless Ocean: Blue World .

  3. norma campbell

    Stingrays for the Pet trade along with other Rainforest Animals. HELL we cannot even take care of the Domestic Dogs and Cats. There is something WRONG with our species.

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