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New-York-skyrays

Different species of skyrays flying in New York City's skylines.

Skyrays are a group of cartilaginous fish part of the Batoidea superorder. They and their close relatives, the sharks and aquatic rays, comprise the subclass Elasmobranchii. Skyrays are among the largest group of cartilaginous fishes, along with aquatic rays, with well over 600 species in 26 families. Skyrays are distinguished from aquatic rays by having lungs (unlike most fish), gills being useless for breathing (and instead is used to help the skyrays fly), and slightly larger intelligence due to competition for food with other sky animals such as birds, despite this, all flying animals (including skyrays) are currently thriving.

Anatomy

Skyrays are flat-bodied, and, like aquatic rays, are are cartilaginous fish, meaning they have a boneless skeleton made of a tough, elastic substance. Most batoids have five ventral slot-like useless body openings called pseudogill slits that lead from the (now functionless) gills, but the Hexatrygonidae have six. Skyray's pseudogill slits lie under the pectoral fins on the underside, just like the aquatic ray's gill slits. Despite the gills losing their breathing function, they now serve as a sort of natural hovering devices, pumping air through these openings, allowing skyrays to fly, not just flapping their wings/fins, to fly more efficiently and are almost completely airborne. Most skyrays have a flat, disk-like body, with the exception of the guitar skyfishes and sky sawfishes. Many species of skyrays have developed their pectoral fins into broad flat wing-like appendages. The anal fin is absent. The eyes and spiracles are located on top of the head. Batoids have a ventrally located mouth and can considerably protrude their upper jaw (palatoquadrate cartilage) away from the cranium to capture prey like unsubspecting birds, lizards, frogs, etc. The jaws have euhyostylic type suspension, which relies completely on the hyomandibular cartilages for support. All known species of skyrays breathe with their lungs, which are very similar to lungs of amphibians like large frogs such as bullfrogs.

Reproduction

Skyrays reproduce in a number of ways. As is characteristic of elasmobranchs, skyrays undergo internal fertilisation. Internal fertilisation is advantageous to skyrays as it conserves sperm, does not expose eggs to consumption by predators, and ensures that all the energy involved in reproduction is retained and not lost to the environment. All species of skyskates and some species of non-skyskate-type skyrays are oviparous (egg laying) and have to lay eggs in rivers, lakes, and other forms of freshwater, while other skyrays are ovoviviparous, meaning that they give birth to young which develop in a womb but without involvement of a placenta. The eggs of oviparous skyskates are laid in leathery egg cases that are commonly known as mermaid's purses and which often wash up empty on riverbanks in areas where skyskates are common.

Habitat

Skyrays of all species have the ability to fly, so they live in (almost) all kinds of habitats, even in human settlements. Despite having te ability to live just about anywhere, they are not found in tundra due to the freezing tempuratures there.

Feeding

Most species of skyrays have developed heavy, rounded teeth for crushing insects (beetles, roaches, etc), arachnids (spiders, scorpions, etc), crustaceans, snails, small turtles, eggs, small armadillos, and/or bones (as well as carrion), depending on a species. Skymantas feed only on tiny swarming birds such as cowbirds, starlings, etc.

Conservation Status

All known species of skyrays are not endangered due to strong conservation efforts to all skyray species. They are also not endangered as they flourish well in human settlements, where they compete with city birds yet they still flourish.

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