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May Elasmobranch of the Month: Ornate Eagle Ray

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

Author: Linda Weiss

Ornate Eagle Ray

Aetomylaeus vespertilio

Key Features/Appearance

Ornate Eagle Rays are the largest of the eagle rays, with wing spans up to 2.4 m (7.8 ft). The topside of the ray is brown to copper in color with dark interlacing lines. These lines create unique patterns resulting in spots on the lower half and horizontal bands on the upper half. The underside of the ray is cream to white. This species does not have a spine on its tail.

Habitat and Distribution

The ornate eagle ray has a patchy distribution in the Indo‐West Pacific, from Australia to southern China in east Asia, India, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Mozambique, and the Red Sea (White & Kyne, 2016).


Snails, crustaceans, and mussels are this ray’s primary food source.


The ornate eagle ray reproduces ovoviviparously. Fertilized eggs develop and hatch inside the female until they are ready to be released. Four to six live young are birthed per litter.


The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently lists the Ornate Eagle Ray as Endangered, with a decreasing population trend.


The ornate eagle ray’s most significant threat is the commercial fishing industry. This species is caught for both its cartilage and meat. The cartilage is used in medications and supplements while the meat is consumed by humans.

Sitings are rare and citizen science has assisted researchers in better understanding this species.

Individual AVNRF‐003 sighted on August 6, 2017 (a; ©Jess Hadden) and re‐sighted on May 7, 2018 (b; ©Jess Hadden) at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. Individual AVLEI‐001 sighted on February 1, 2017 (c; ©Jessica Lee‐Anne) and re‐sighted on February 26, 2018 (d; ©Jeremy Somerville) at Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia. Red circles highlight the spot pattern area used for individual identification ( via Araujo et al., 2020).


Awesome Ocean

The Australian Museum

The Edge of Existence

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

White, W.T. & Kyne, P.M. 2016. Aetomylaeus vespertilio. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T60121A68607665. Downloaded on 15 May 2021.

Araujo, G., Legaspi, C., Matthews, K., Ponzo, A., Chin, A., & Maniaci-Matsumoto, B.M. ( 2020). Citizen science sheds light on the cryptic ornate eagle ray Aetomylaeus vespertilio.

Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 30(10), 2012-2018.

White, W. T., & Kyne, P. M. (2016). Aetomylaeus vespertilio. The IUCN red list of threatened species 2016: E.T60121A68607665.

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