Cownose Ray

Cownose Ray

[ Rhinoptera bonasus ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: up to 7 feet (from wingtip to wingtip)

male: approx. 26 pounds; female: approx. 36 pounds

WILD DIET: oysters, clams, snails, and other invertebrates
ZOO DIET: smelt and shrimp
DISTRIBUTION: western coast of Africa and along the eastern coast of the United States into the Gulf of Mexico, migrating to Venezuela and Brazil
HABITAT: coastal waters

Name That Ray

We’ll call you…

Cownose rays are named for the long pectoral fins that create two creased lobes in front of their domed head, giving them a cow-ish look. But cows aren’t the only animals this species resembles. When their wingtips break the surface of the water, they look a lot like the dorsal fins of a shark!


Uncommon sense

Cownose rays, and others like their cousins the southern stingrays, have a strong sense of smell and touch, as a well as something called “electroreception.” This offers them the ability to review and make use of electrical impulses in the water. Rays have organs that contain cells connecting to the pores of their skin. These receptors are what allows them to find the electrical patterns in the water and thereby locate food.



When cownose rays find buried food, they flap their pectoral fins, suck sand through their mouth, and pump the sand out their gills. This sends clouds of silt up into the water and creates quite the spectacle when large schools of them are eating at once. Other fishes often gather around during this mass feast, hoping to dine on some of the food churned up by the rays.


Cownose rays at Brookfield Zoo

Stingray Bay is home to a school of cownose rays at Brookfield Zoo. This visiting exhibit will stay open during the summer so don’t miss your chance to get in touch with ocean life through this intimate, interactive experience.


All the rays at Stingray Bay have had their barbs clipped for safe interaction.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society