Stingrays are marine animals with flat bodies and long, slender tails that have serrated, venom-containing spines. They are found in warm temperate and tropical waters throughout the world and are often seen in shallow waters lying on top of or partially burrowed in the sand. There are around seventy different types of stingrays, which can range in size from a few inches to seven feet in diameter.
Stingray stings account for an estimated 1,500 injures per year in the US. Stingrays do not behave aggressively toward humans, so most stings occur when a swimmer or diver accidentally steps on a stingray. The defensive action by the stingray usually results in a puncture wound when the jagged spine ("stinger") penetrates the skin of the victim. When the spine of the animal is withdrawn, a laceration results and venom is injected into the victim.
Picture of stingray spine.
A stingray sting produces immediate sharp pain that peaks in intensity over one to two hours. The area of the injury may become swollen and red. Other symptoms that may develop include:
Death from a stingray sting is very rare and has been documented in children when the stingray spine has penetrated the chest or abdomen.
Victims of stingray stings should receive medical attention. First aid for stingray stings involves:
- Flushing the wound with fresh water,
- Scrubbing the affected area with soap and fresh water, and removal of all stingers with tweezers.
- Soaking the affected area in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated without causing burns) can help relieve the pain.
Since there is a strong likelihood of infection developing in the wound area, antibiotics may be prescribed along with medications for pain control.
People can take steps to prevent stepping on a stingray when swimming in water where stingrays may be found. Experts recommend shuffling the feet (often referred to as the "stingray shuffle") when entering the water or walking on the bottom to frighten stingrays and cause them to retreat.