The Pain of Love: Shark Ray Dies from Mating Injuries

LiveScience.com

Love hurts. For proof, look no further than the animal kingdom.

Yesterday (July 23), the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky announced the death of its latest acquisition, a female shark ray. The exotic-looking fish — also known as a bowmouth guitarfish (Rhina ancylostoma) — was killed during the act of mating by an amorous male.

"Mating is kind of a violent act," Mark Dvornak, general curator of the Newport Aquarium, told USA Today. "Everybody thinks of roses and chocolate. There is nothing romantic about it." [On the Brink: A Gallery of Wild Sharks]

Shark rays — which have wide, flat heads like a stingray and dorsal and tail fins like a shark — often bite during mating. Like other members of the skate, ray and shark family, the male pursues the female and bites down on a fin to hold her during copulation.

But this time, according to Dvornak, the male shark ray got carried away and bit down on the female's abdomen.

"We knew through her behavior something was amiss," Dvornak said. After the female was removed from the exhibit, an ultrasound revealed the extent of her injuries and internal bleeding.

The ravages of love certainly aren't limited to sharks and rays: The endangered Otton frog (Babina subaspera) has a fifth digit on its front feet that encases a sharp, daggerlike spike. The male frog jabs this spike into the sides of the female during sex.

Male guppies have a hooked "claw" on the tip of their genitalia to aid in impregnating an uncooperative female, who might otherwise squirm away. And certain male spiders make the ultimate sacrifice: By letting the female eat them after sex, they are helping out their offspring. The satiated female is more likely to have stronger, healthier offspring.

It's not unusual to find shark and shark rays in the wild with extensive scarring and bite marks, according to Dvornak. "Most of the time, the females will survive," Dvornak said. "Sharks have an amazing ability to heal."

Shark rays, which live in tropical coastal waters in the western Pacific and Indian oceans, can grow to be a long as 9 feet (2.7 meters) and weigh up to 300 lbs (136 kilograms).

The Newport Aquarium had been in the process of sponsoring a contest on Facebook to come up with a name for the new (now-deceased) female shark ray, acquired on July 17. The other four shark rays in the aquarium's newly renovated exhibit are named Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike.

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