Ray barb trimming - A "how to".

Zoodiver

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DISCLAIMER: Stingrays are venomous animals. This is only to be used as a guideline. Interaction with a venomous fish is your choice. MFK is not responsible if you get hurt while trying to trim your stingray's barb.


First off, I want to say that this isn't something that I suggest for everyone. In fact, if you don't have to, I would suggest leaving the barb on. However, it is a 'hot topic' and a lot of emotions often get twisting into the 'facts' of ray barbs and the proper way to trim them.

Let's start off looking at what the barb actually is. Depending on the species of ray, the spine of the barb is located right at the base of the tail close to the body (like on cownose stingrays) or about half way down the length of the tail (like in yellow stingrays). The barb is for defense only. They can't shoot them at you. They don't use them to hunt. The barb itself is made up of keratin, just like your fingernail. It is often described as bone, but it's not. Just like your fingernail, they don't feel them being trimmed. While on the ray, the barb is covered in a thin layer of skin called the integumentary sheath. It is the part that carries the venom. (They are not poisonous. Fun fact, venom is injected - poison is injested.) The sheath is saturated in venom via a gland at the base of the tail. Often times in a tank, you'll be able to see a bare white barb. It's not uncommon to have the sheath rub off, and expose the keratin of the barb itself. If you see a barb without the protective sheath, you will be able to see the finely serrated edges that run the entire length on both sides. These barbs are not venomous without the sheath, however, they can still do a LOT of damage if you get hit with one.

The barb grows similar to sharks teeth: they wear out over time, and rays continually grow new ones. The new barb will usually push the old barb off, but again it's not uncommon to find two, three or even four barbs stacked on top of each other. You will also find shed barbs on the bottom of your tank over time.

As for trimming them, it's straight forward, but does take some skill. First have the proper tools ready. Barbs (depending on size of the ray) can be thick and hard to cut. I usually recommend a pair of clean wire cutters. On small rays, sometimes fingernail clippers will work. Have a flat tray (or other flat surafce) to work on, protective eye-wear and a towel soaked in tank water. An extra set of helping hands is a good idea. Matt's life pointer for working with venomous animals: never reach in with the hand you write with.

Net the ray out and onto the tray, cover it with the wet towel to calm it down. On benthic rays with the barb in the middle of the tail, it's best to have a strong grip on the base of the tail to prevent it from swinging. Get as far up the barb as you can when cutting, but you will always end up with a blunt base left after you trim. You're trying for a straight clean cut. Avoid shattering and fragmenting the barb as you cut. Put the ray back into the water as quickly as possible.

Here are some pics to help show what I just explained.

This is a blunted stub from a previous trim, and a barb that needs to be trimmed on a cownose stingray in a public interaction setting. This is my hand. I don't suggest or recommend anyone getting this close. I've been working with stingrays for a long time, and have spend hundreds of hours hands on with them before feeling comfortable at this level. I didn't get to that point without finding out the hard way what a barb feels like tearing into a body part or two.



This is how to position the wire cutter in order to get as close to the base as possible.



This is a trimmed and cleaned barb from a young spotted eagle ray. Best way to clean is submerge the barb in hot water.



Not taken during a trim, but it gives an idea of size and location of a mid tail barb on an adult Southern stingray. I was holding the tail during an ultrasound of a preg female when this was taken.




I found a few more old pics showing the trimming of a young Southern stingray, so you can see how I hold the tail for a mid-barb type ray. Most benthic rays are equipped this way (Yellow, Round, Cortez, Atlantic etc...) This would be similar to FW rays as well. You can see I've got a neoprene dive glove wrapped around the tail. These rays (and many others like them) have small spines (not venomous, just sharp) all the way down the length of the tail. The glove is to protect my holding hand from being poked. I've learned over time to not actually wear the gloves. If a barb does go through, then you either have a glove nailed to your hand, or you have to struggle to get a bloody glove off with a barb stuck in it and you.



 

Thelatinofishlover

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intresting thread Matt, i dont own stingrays but would this work for a freshwater ray aswell?
 

Zoodiver

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Yes. It does. I've done motoro touch pools in the past. On rather large FW rays, I would trim the barb prior to shipping as well.
 

Zoodiver

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I think the ideas revolving around the stingray barb changed drastically when Steve was killed. Prior to that, the general public's concept was if you step on them they sting your foot - so shuffle your feet at the beach. After Steve's accident, the main stream media flooded the public with info that wasn't factual. Everyone had a second hand story of barbs shooting off, giant man killing rays jumping into boats trying to attack people etc.... It was similar to the effect the movie Jaws had.

It's been my experience that the more you know about something, the better you are working with it.
 
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nonamethefish

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Assuming you've done this on countless rays with no complications? No need for antiseptic(say, dipping the wire cuttings in chlorexidine) just so long as things stay clean?
 

Aquaman021

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Assuming you've done this on countless rays with no complications? No need for antiseptic(say, dipping the wire cuttings in chlorexidine) just so long as things stay clean?
Its like cutting your nail I think it doesn't hurt the ray and the rays barb won't get infected its like a piece of bone your not cutting flesh

Sent from my Galaxy Nexus using MonsterAquariaNetwork App
 

Zoodiver

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Assuming you've done this on countless rays with no complications? No need for antiseptic(say, dipping the wire cuttings in chlorexidine) just so long as things stay clean?
You can disinfect if you want to, but as long as it's not an old rusty tool, the ray will be fine. I can't give you an exact number, but it's well into the hundreds for the number of times I've trimmed ray barbs.
 
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