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How & Why Do the Stingrays Paint?

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium has some unusual artists-in-residence . . . stingrays! Aquarist Laura B. shows you how the cownose #stingrays can create one-of-a-kind artwork and explains how activities like this allow the animals to exercise control over their environment and keep things interesting. #cleaquarium #natureiscurious

Hi! I’m Laura, an aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. I’m here at our Stingray Touchpool to talk about stingray enrichment.  Enrichment is something we do to encourage natural behaviors. This enrichment can be simple like a touch stimulus in the touch tank, offering a new food item or allowing the animals to swim through hula hoops or air bubbles. Enrichment can also be something more complex, like a stingray art program or giving them an opportunity to work harder to obtain a reward.

Stingray art is something we do fairly often. It encourages the stingrays to work differently for their food and to use their natural foraging instincts. Enrichment allows the animals to exercise control and choice in their environment, which enhances their overall well-being. Animals with good mental health are more engaged with their surroundings and more at ease.

You can see that in this exhibit there are three types of stingrays. The most recognizable of those is the cownose stingray with its indented rostrum that kind of resembles a cow. The cownose rays stay higher in the water column and engage actively with the art program.  There are also Southern stingrays, which are the larger ones, as well as a little, spade-shaped Atlantic ray who stays mainly on the bottom, buried in the sand. 

You can see black shells in the exhibit. These are whole mussels. Stingrays can use their row of teeth to crush shells with their strong jaws. The cownose rays use the mandibles above their mouths to sift through the sand bed to find shells and food items. They’ll eventually get to those mussels, but they prefer the easier, handfed food options because it’s less work. That’s what makes mussels a good enrichment item.

Personally I really enjoy giving the stingrays enrichment because they interact with it readily and they always seem ready to participate. Before this stingray art session even began, the stingrays were gathering around, ready to paint their masterpiece.

Author: Laura B.

With eyes up top and mouths down below, how do stingrays locate their food? You'll find out when you feed one.

Feed a Stingray
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