What has a tail … and wings … but swims underwater? The newest residents at the Fort Worth Zoo, that’s what!
Tucked just off the main path, beyond the Museum of Living Art (MOLA) and over the bridge, Stingray Cove is an all-new, interactive exhibit where guests can get up close to and touch a variety stingrays and small sharks as they swim through the shallow saltwater pool. The pool is just the right height so that even the littlest visitors can see into the water. As you peer just over the pool’s edge, you’ll see more than 50 stingrays and sharks gliding through the water or nestling into the sandy bottom beneath you. As an added bonus, you can purchase food to feed the rays as well!
Stingray Cove is open daily during normal Zoo operating hours and admission is $4 ($3 for Zoo members). Admission to Stingray Cove is purchased just outside the exhibit. Your admission covers all-day entry, so stop by, say hi and stay for a while on your next visit to the Fort Worth Zoo!
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Stingray Cove is home to two stingray species (cownose and southern stingrays) and three shark species (brown-banded bamboo, epaulette and white-spotted bamboo sharks).
Both cownose rays and southern stingrays are gentle ocean dwellers that can be found in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean and even the Gulf of Mexico. The cownose ray is aptly named for its uniquely shaped forehead that resembles the nose of a cow. This ray is brown- to olive-colored and ranges from 2 to 3 feet across, and females are typically larger. The southern stingray is larger than the cownose ray, ranging from 2 to 4 feet in length, and similarly, females are larger than males. This ray has a flat, diamond-shaped body and ranges from gray to dark brown in color.
Located on either side of the ray’s whip-like tail are two barbs, which the animal will use in defense. The barbs are filled with toxins and mucous that could harm a potential predator. The animal will only use its tail or barbs when it feels threatened or in danger. Plus, at the Fort Worth Zoo, keepers keep the barbs trimmed. It’s just like trimming your own fingernails!
No need to fear these sharks as they’re just the little ones. And docile too! All three species – the brown-banded bamboo shark, epaulette shark and white-spotted bamboo shark – range from 2 to 4 feet long and are bottom dwellers. This means they spend most of their time on the ocean floor looking for food like crustaceans and small fish. You won’t be feeding these guys at Stingray Cove, but should they decide to swim closer to the surface, you just might get to feel their smooth exterior!
You can tell the three species apart based on the physical appearance of each one. The most distinctive feature on the epaulette shark is the large, black dots just above each pectoral fin, which resemble the shoulder decorations on military uniforms called epaulettes – hence the name. The brown-banded bamboo shark and white-spotted bamboo shark both have light and dark brown bands from nose to fins, however, the white-spotted bamboo shark will have – you guessed it – white spots covering its body.
Since stingrays cannot easily see their prey, they utilize smell and special sensory receptors called ampullae of Lorenzini to help locate buried prey. Once the prey is found, the ray will use its strong sucking power to consume the prey.
At Stingray Cove, the rays will take the food right out of your hand! Here’s how:
In the wild, stingrays eat fish, clams and crustaceans like crab, lobster and shrimp. Here at the Zoo, they are eating shrimp, squid and occasionally krill. And you can feed them! Small cups of food are available at Stingray Cove for $2 per cup for both members and nonmembers. Those of you with shellfish allergies should know that you will be handling shrimp during feeding time.
Proceeds from your admission to Stingray Cove help maintain the life support system and other costs associated with the complex pool system, as well as fund valuable conservation efforts and ecology research. To gain a better understanding of stingray biology and aid in conservation efforts, scientists are conducting research on the behavior, reproduction, genetics and population characteristics of the southern stingrays in the Cayman Islands and Caribbean. Research is also being done on the rise and decline of specific species of rays and sharks, including the cownose ray. The findings from these studies will help formulate management strategies for wild populations.