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The kinematics of envenomation by the yellow stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis


The yellow stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis (Cuvier 1817), is a common saltwater stingray species that can administer a fast, venomous sting, usually as the result of being inadvertently stepped upon. This species has been studied by a number of investigators, however, little is known about the kinematics of its strike, or the strike of any other ray species. High-speed cinematography was used to film vertical strikes catalyzed by a foot-like apparatus used to pin the animal down. The average maximum velocity of 213.15 cm/s was found to occur 61.3% through the total strike; strikes lasted, on average, 0.23 s. The average maximum acceleration was determined to be 3067.34 cm/s/s. To accomplish a successful envenomation, a stingray will arc its tail upward then depress the tip of its tail to reveal the venomous spine, forming an angle with the tail with a mean of 35.73°. This angle appears, on average, at a point 58.8% through the path of the strike, or just before the maximum velocity. Morphological analyses determined that this angle is accomplished by a significant reduction in the dorso-ventral height of the vertebral column, as well as spacing between haemal arches and processes, creating a “hinge-like” feature that allows the tail-tip to flex away from the spine. Yellow stingrays are morphologically and behaviorally adapted to deploy their venomous spine as a mean of defense against threats, and a better understanding of this mechanism may aid in the prevention and treatment of stingray-inflicted wounds in humans.

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The authors are grateful to S. Tegge and N. Zbasnik for early discussions of this manuscript, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback. Funding for this research was provided by a Western Kentucky University Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) award and a Carol Martin Gatton Academy Research Supplies Grant to R. Hughes, and by Carol Martin Gatton Academy Research Supplies and Research Internship Grants to K. Pedersen. Use of stingrays was approved by the WKU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (#15-05). All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Correspondence to Steve Huskey.

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Hughes, R., Pedersen, K. & Huskey, S. The kinematics of envenomation by the yellow stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis. Zoomorphology 137, 409–418 (2018).

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  • Stingray
  • Spine
  • Envenomation
  • Kinematics
  • Behavior
  • Morphology