Home | Freshwater Aquariums | Freshwater Stingrays: Points to Consider Before Your First Purchase – Part II

Freshwater Stingrays: Points to Consider Before Your First Purchase – Part II

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

In Part I of this article we examined some important points concerning freshwater stingray ownership. I’ll continue here with more husbandry tips and a look at the natural history of two unique species.

Selecting an Individual: Health

Large rays may have been collected via hook, do not ship well, and usually arrive in very poor condition. Check those over 12 inches in diameter carefully. Their adjustment to captivity is much less successful than that of smaller individuals.

Do not purchase a stingray whose fins are curled upwards along their margins. For reason as yet unknown, such animals invariably expire in short order.

Identifying the Various Species

It is important that you lean to identify the commonly available species before making a purchase. Animals in the genus Dasyatis, commonly sold as “freshwater stingrays” are actually native to brackish waters (river mouths) and may fare poorly in freshwater aquariums. Others, including ceja, antenna, tiger and China rays, have unique feeding and water quality requirements, and make quite delicate captives.

The hardy, popular common or motoro ray (Potamotrygon motoro) exists in 6-8 distinct color morphs, and is difficult to identify based on appearance alone.


Freshwater stingrays have fast metabolisms and need 2-3 feedings each day; dietary variety is vital to good health.

Live blackworms, ghost shrimp, crayfish, earthworms and small fishes are necessary for newly-acquired specimens. Eventually, most can be habituated to accepting canned invertebrates and animal-based frozen foods, but live animals remain an important component of the diet.

Stingray Tankmates

While rays often get along well with each other and certain other fishes, the usually benign suckermouth catfishes (i.e. Plecostomus spp) present an unusual problem. They often latch onto stingrays’ backs, sucking at the skin and causing lesions and stress-related ailments. The reasons for this behavior have not yet been thoroughly investigated.


You would be well-advised to check the legality of stingray ownership, as 8-10 states currently prohibit the keeping of freshwater species.

A Freshwater Ray in the USA?

Most freshwater rays offered in the trade hail from South America, but others may be found in Asia, Africa and Australia.

Dasyatis sabina in FloridaInterestingly, Florida’s St. John’s River is home to a population of marine rays that have adapted to life in fresh water. The species involved, the Atlantic stingray, Dasyatis sabina (please see photo), is known to forage in river mouths, but the St. John’s River population is the only one that has become independent of the sea, even breeding in freshwater.

An Amazing Giant

Southeast Asia is home to the world’s largest freshwater stingray, Himantura chaophraya. In January of 2009 a researcher captured a massive specimen in Thailand’s Meaklong River. Spanning nearly 9 feet across and weighing an estimated 660 pounds, the giant appeared pregnant and was released unharmed.

A Hands-On Experience with Stingrays

Please be sure to visit That Fish Place/That Pet Place in Lancaster, PA (the world’s largest pet store) for a chance to hand feed our friendly marine stingrays.

I’ll cover the care of freshwater, marine and even some native stingrays in detail in future articles. Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.

Thanks, Frank Indiviglio

Further Reading

You can learn more about Southeast Asia’s spectacular giant freshwater stingray here.

Please also check out the book, Freshwater Stingrays for more on captive care.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally published by the user Abigor.


  1. avatar

    Sir I have just brought 2 Motoros sp in Pune I am not understanding them . They are sitting at one single point and not at all moving I am not knowing that at what temp they should be kept I have not kept any decorations in it I have kept the surface clear ie without any soil,how should be the light arrangement.

  2. avatar

    Stingrays are not very active fish and they will spend the majority of their time on the bottom and buried in the substrate. They become more active when they are hungry and feeding, but will retire to the bottom when the food is gone. Temperature for motoros should be maintained between 76 and 82 degrees F (will tolerate temps from 72 to 86 F). They prefer dimmer lighting. The most important requirements are a large tank and frequent water changes/more than adequate filtration as these fish are very sensitive to water quality and will decline quickly if the water quallity is less than pristine.

  3. avatar

    Hi, me and my mom might be buying a freshwater stingray pup that originates from South A. and its captive bred at a local pet store. My question is, do you actually need sand for a stingray, or can you use gravel..? And are there any tank mates from South A. that can go with the stingray besides a silver arowana and silver dollars..? And can you use a used fish tank, and the used fish tank has never been shut off yet and still has the filter running with the same water. As a month ago I got a bigger fish tank with white sand for my fish in the used fish tank . Thanks

  4. avatar

    Hi Brenden,

    Sand is preferable, but be sure to use sand that is designed for use in FW tanks…marine sands (coral, silica) tend to be abrasive, and will also raise the pH to unacceptable levels. If you go with gravel, use small, rounded pebbles..they like to bury themselves, and hunt by blowing water into the substrate..sand is more suitable for these activities, but success has been had with gravel.

    Be sure to use a plastic shield over the heater, as they are susceptible to burns.

    They get along with various tetras, knifefishes, severums and some others, but keep in mind that most in the trade grow quite large, and will need lots of room (be sure to find out the species name…let me know if you need info).. they are hard on water quality…ammonia etc needs to be checked frequently. Any additional fish place add to the task of maintaining the water quality. Unless you have a tank of 180 gallons or more, I’d suggest focusing on the stingray alone, at least until you are sure it is doing well, etc.

    You can use a seasoned tank, as long as you check water quality; however, as stingrays seem quite sensitive to certain parasites and diseases, it is best to start with a fresh tank, ant to let the tank cycle before adding a stingray; parasites etc that are harmless to one species can be deadly to others; this is especially true where fish from different parts of the world are concerned.

    Good luck, please let me know if you need anything, Frank

  5. avatar

    I bought an atlantic stingray from my lfs recently and I’m keeping it in fresh water but I’m adding aquarium salt every time I change the water. I’m also keeping him/her with discus who so far seem unaffected by the salt.

  6. avatar

    Hello Joel,

    It would be useful for you to obtain the Latin name from the dealer, so that you can check it’s exact needs. Salinity will be affected each time you remove water and add salt, so you’ll want to keep a careful eye on that via hydrometer. ZPlease let me know if you need more info, best, Frank

  7. avatar

    I have a hystrix stingray. I often see him swimming up the side of the fish tank and sticking the front of his disc out of the water. I’ve seen many other stingrays do this, but just curious what the behavior means if anything. Not sure if their just exploring and enjoying themselves or if it’s a sign that something is wrong. Also, what is the “best” think to feed them? I’ve been giving shrimp, blood worms and another type of worm that I can’t recall atm. Thanks!

  8. avatar

    Hello Cameron,

    Rays that are used to being hand-fed, as in public aquariums, will do that; Irritation, lack of space can also cause them to become restless..check water quality to make sure all is well. Provide as much variety as possible…try adding small whole fishes to the diet (frozen shiners etc are convenient); vary types of fishes and shrimp as well, without relying on any one food to the exclusion of others. Enjoy. Frank

  9. avatar

    Hey there !
    I bought a hystrix stingray 3 days ago and now when he swims or go on the glass i can see he’s becoming red irritated a bit
    Is the sand or my water ?
    Somebody told me aboht the nitrate and nitrite that might be too high but if its that how to lower it down ?

  10. avatar

    Hello Pascale,

    Sharp or otherwise rough sand can cause this, or it may be related to water chemistry…nitrate etc levels are related to the water’s ammonia content. I would do a partial water change just in case ammonia is high; please see this article. It’s important, however, that you read up on water chemistry, as without an understanding of this it will be difficult to keep most fishes.An ammonia test kit should always be on hand as well. Please see this article.; Please feel free to send in more info re your set-up. Best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Hi Frank
    My mom dad bought me a freshwater stingray and it died I don’t know what I might have done wrong. The guy at the fish shop told me to feed it once every other day blood worms. It’s in a 75 gallon tank by itself with 2 plecos it has rock pebbles instead of sand. Any thought if what I might have done wrong?

    Thnx Jayden

  12. avatar

    Hi Jayden, We would need more information to help you figure that out. What kind of stingray was it and how large was it? What kind of plecos were in with it? How long was the tank set up and established with fish in it? Did you test the water quality, and what were the values for at least pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate and temperature? Did you see anything physically wrong with the stingray like wounds, sores, redness, skinniness or bloating? Was it eating when you fed it? In general, having any tankmates in with rays can be risky, especially plecos that may suck onto their back like Frank mentioned. I would recommend feeding more that every other day and with a more varied diet than bloodworms, but that depends on what kind of stingray you had. I would recommend getting as much information together about your tank and stingray (starting with those questions above) and then giving us a call or have your parents call in so we can discuss your tank and ways to have more success in the future. You can reach our retail store Fish Room staff at 717-299-5691.

  13. avatar

    Can I put a sting ray with an Oscar

  14. avatar

    Hi Antonio, I wouldn’t recommend it. Some hobbyists have had success with it but they tank would have to be very large and well-filtered to counter the Oscar’s natural territorial and aggressive behavior, as well as the waste that they produce that may make the water quality unsafe for the stingray.

  15. avatar

    hi my brother had just bought a stingray from the pet shop the guy told him that it would be good to leave it in the bucket that he had put it in that we left the store until we got the tank setup we have a 75 gallon tank and put the stand in and the water in the water never cleared even with the filter so left the stingray in the bucket that it was brought home in by 3 a.m. it was barely moving and then died not sure what the cause was

  16. avatar

    Hello Summer, Unfortunately, leaving the stingray in a bucket for that long was probably too stressful on it. They are very sensitive to stress and water quality and a small bucket with no flow or filtration is far from ideal. A better plan would be to have your tank set up, cycled and established through the Nitrogen Cycle and ready for the stingray before you purchased the stingray and brought it home. Any fish should be acclimated into a healthy, setup and established tank as soon as possible after purchase.

  17. avatar

    is there any good sites for identifying sting rays? there is one at a pet shop i want but i dont know how big he will get and they cant give me a stright answer on what he is

  18. avatar

    Hi Sam, WetWebMedia has some of the more common aquarium stingrays on their website. FishBase is a good identification website but is organized by scientific name. You can find most of the freshwater stingrays under Family Potamotrygonidae. Good luck!

  19. avatar

    Hey I have a 6″ freshwater Motoro stingray in a 75 gal tank. She is on her own with no substrate and a cover over the heater. There is a external filter rated to265 gal an hour and I feed her earthworms. I’ve had her for about three weeks and starting today she has been swimming in the middle of the water and a lot on the glass not really coming down at all. She’ll still eat when I feed her and she doesn’t appear to have any scratches or injury makes. What could be wrong if anything?

  20. avatar

    Hello Dustin, The first thing to check would always be the water quality – it is like the vital signs they always take at the doctor’s office. To start with, check the pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate and temperature to make sure everything is still within safe levels.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.