So, how do you tell the difference between a shark and a ray?
Use of pectoral fins
- Many but not all sharks have long slender bodies.
- Rays have much more flattened bodies. This shape is well-suited to the habitat occupied by most rays, the ocean-bottom.
Use of the tail
- Sharks' pectoral fins are used for lift and steering.
- Rays use their large pectoral fins to swim, either by flapping them like wings or fluttering them in a wave-like motion from the front to the back of the fins.
Placement of gill openings
- Sharks swim by undulating their muscular bodies and sweeping their tails from side to side. The longer upper lobe of the shark's tail fin is a distinctive trait found in most species.
- Most rays have narrow tails, some lacking fins. Ray tails may be used for balance or steering. Many ray tails sport a sharp barb for protection.
- Sharks' gill openings are on their sides in front of their pectoral fins.
- Rays' gill openings are found on the underside of their head because the pectoral fins are attached to the head over and in front of the gill openings.
The guitar fish is a ray!