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June 21, 2004

Smooth Butterfly Ray

I was going through some old photos of fish I caught around Norfolk Naval Station while serving in the Marine Corps, and I found this shot of a ray I caught and released from a pier near Virginia Beach several years ago. Can you help with the classification?

Q: I've been a subscriber for a while, and my favorite section of your magazine is Fish Facts! I was going through some old photos of fish I caught around Norfolk Naval Station while serving in the Marine Corps, and I found this shot of a ray I caught and released from a pier near Virginia Beach several years ago. My only conclusion is that it was a newborn smooth butterfly ray or an unknown skate. I have caught a lot of clear-nose skates, common and cownose stingrays, but this one was totally different. I've tried the Internet with no luck. Can you help with the classification? --Greg Moliere, Houston, Texas

A: Greg, your "mystery fish" is a smooth butterfly ray (Gymnura micrura), as you suspected. This species can be distinguished from the spiny butterfly ray (G. altavela) by its slightly protruding snout and the absence of a spine on its short tail. The greenish hue is also characteristic of some individuals, although others range in color from brown to gray. The smooth butterfly ray is fairly abundant in some coastal regions that have sandy or muddy bottoms. Although not often caught by hook-and-line anglers, it frequently shows up in the nets of shrimp trawlers. It reaches a maximum "wingspan" of nearly 5 feet and normally feeds on shrimps, crabs and clams. -- Ray Waldner