Sharks and rays are fish. Like other fish, sharks and rays have a backbone, live in water, and breathe by means of gills. Rays descended from sharks about 200 million years ago.
The banded guitarfish, shown above, illustrates the close relationship between sharks and rays. It is found in coastal waters, from shallow bays to about 70 feet deep, from Panama to Newport Beach.
Sharks and rays have many traits in common:
- A skeleton made of cartilage (the material in your ears and the end of
your nose) - it is strong, flexible, less dense than bone, and favors
- Specialized jaws and teeth for a variety of feeding strategies
- Denticles -- small tooth-like structures covering the skin - armor
protecting against predators and abrasion
- 5-7 gill openings -- a trait retained from ancient ancestors
- Sharks and rays reproduce by laying eggs or bearing live young. All use
But sharks and rays have several important differences. So, how do you tell the difference between a shark and a ray?