#15 - SMOOTH BUTTERFLY RAY ( Gymnura micura)
Summer is the time in which the full and new moons bring extreme low evening tides to the beaches of Estero Island, and it is during these low tides that the sand bars become exposed for a few hours at sunset, separating the waves form the shore and leaving the water between sandbar and beach shallow, clear , calm… and teeming with marine life that is rarely seen in the turbulence of the waves washing ashore on a high tide. One of the more unusual species to be observed during this time is the smooth butterfly ray. He is a master of camouflage, and you must look closely to find him. Usually found on soft sandy bottoms, the butterfly rays found on our shores tend to be a light sandy color that blends in nearly perfectly with the bottom. They are wider than they are long, with a very short tail displaying two distinct horizontal bands. These small rays feed on fish, invertebrates and crustaceans. Butterfly rays are common throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the northern coast of South America, and the Atlantic coast of Africa. If you are wading in the shallows looking for one, these rays tend to move slowly away ,gliding just above the bottom and will often stop to fan themselves into the sand nearly disappearing from sight. Although this species of ray is harmless and has no poisonous spine, be sure to shuffle your feet, lest you step on him and feel the stinging pain of butterfly ray resentment.