Tuesday 21 May
Spiny butterfly ray (Gymnura altavela)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Spiny butterfly ray fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Spiny butterfly ray description
The spiny butterfly ray (Gymnura altavela) gets its name from its wide, characteristically wing-like pectoral fins, and its short, sharp tail, which has serrated spines on both sides, used to stun prey (3) (4).
The upperparts of the spiny butterfly ray are usually brown to grey, sometimes with reddish-brown shading at the margins of the ‘wings’. Small dark or light spots and blotches may produce a marbling effect across the back. The colouration of the spiny butterfly ray, along with its wide, flat, disc-shaped body enable it to effectively camouflage itself in sand beds (5) (6). The underside is generally white, brown or rosy-coloured. The spiny butterfly ray has a blunt snout, and the jaws contain many rows of teeth (4) (5).
The juvenile spiny butterfly ray has paler skin, which darkens to brown as it matures (4).
- Adult male length: 155 cm (1)
- Adult female length: 102 cm (1)
- Newborn length: 38 - 44 cm (1)
- 1 - 9 kg (2)
Spiny butterfly ray biology
Little is known about the biology of the spiny butterfly ray. However, it is known that this species’ sharp pectoral fins are used to stun prey such as crustaceans, molluscs, plankton and small fishes. The spiny butterfly ray also may predate small sharks and squids, and may in turn be preyed upon by larger sharks (7).
The spiny butterfly ray reproduces annually. This species is ovoviviparous, and the gestation period lasts between four and nine months. The litter size of the spiny butterfly ray is between two and eight, depending on location (1).Top
Spiny butterfly ray range
The spiny butterfly ray has a very patchy distribution in the coastal tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. This species can be found in areas on both sides of the Atlantic, in the western coastal waters of North and South America, and in eastern coastal waters from Portugal to Angola (1).Top
Spiny butterfly ray habitat
The spiny butterfly ray can be found over sandy and muddy sea floors in shallow coastal waters, normally around depths of 50 to 55 metres. Its patchy distribution means that the spiny butterfly ray is abundant in some areas, and scarcely found in others (1).Top
Spiny butterfly ray status
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Spiny butterfly ray threats
Intense fishing in the southwest Atlantic, particularly around the coast of Brazil has led to declines in spiny butterfly ray populations. In 23 years, the percentage of trawl catches has reduced by an estimated 99 percent (1).
The spiny butterfly ray is less threatened in US waters, where fishing levels are are lower. However, in the Mediterranean Sea, there is much higher demand for the spiny butterfly ray’s meat. It is now so rare in the Mediterranean, the spiny butterfly ray has been absent from the Mediterranean International Trawl Survey (MEDITS) records since they began in 1994 (1).
Along the coast of West Africa, large mesh bottom gillnets are used to target the spiny butterfly ray in huge numbers. Even in protected marine areas, the average size of caught spiny butterfly rays has reduced as larger adults from the population are removed (1).Top
Spiny butterfly ray conservation
Despite the rapidly declining numbers of the spiny butterfly ray, there are currently no specific conservation management programmes in place, and intensive trawling continues throughout this species’ range. However, the spiny butterfly ray is fully protected in the Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania. Monitoring of spiny butterfly ray populations and protection in areas where it is heavily fished are needed (1).Top
Find out more
Florida Museum of Natural History - Spiny butterfly ray:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following: a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- Ovovivipary is a method of reproduction whereby the egg shell is weakly formed and young hatch inside the female; they are nourished by their yolk sac and then ‘born’ live.
- An organism that derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism at the host’s expense.
- Pectoral fins
- In fish, the pair of fins that are found on either side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
- Aquatic organisms, usually tiny, that drift passively with water movements; includes phytoplankton (plants), zooplankton (animals), or other organisms such as bacteria.
- Referring to the geographical region that lies between the polar and tropical regions, characterised by a moderate climate with distinct seasons.
IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
- Filiz, H and Blige, G. (2004) Length-weight relationships of 24 fish species from the North Aegean Sea, Turkey. Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 20(5): 431-432.
- Campbell, A. and Dawes, J. (2004) Encyclopedia of Underwater Life. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- McEachran, J.D. and Fechhelm, J.D. (1998) Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico: Myxiniformes to Gasterosteiformes. University of Texas Press, Austin, USA.
FishBase - Spiny butterfly ray (September, 2011)
- Florida Museum of Natural History - Spiny butterfly ray:
- Henningsen, A. (1998) Captive husbandry and bioenergetics of the spiny butterfly ray, Gymnura altavela (Linnaeus). Zoo Biology, 15(2): 135-142.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.