Cowtail Stingray, Pastinachus ater (Macleay 1883)

Other Names: Banana-tail Ray, Bull Ray, Cowtail Ray, Eatern Cowtail Stingray, Fantail Ray, Feathertail Stingray, Guergunna, Weralli

A Cowtail Stingray, Pastinachus ater, at Magnetic Island, Queensland. Source: Andy Lewis / Lizard Island Field Guide, License: CC by Attribution


A large uniformly dark stingray that has a long anteriorly-flattened tail with a broad black skin flap and a venomous serrated spine. The disc is slightly wider than long with a dense band of blunt denticles over the centre.

Cowtail Stingrays are commonly found inshore and may even venture far upstream in estuaries. Care must be taken as they can easily bend the long tail up over the back and the serrated spine on the tail may cause a very painful wound. 

In Australia, the Cowtail Stingray has previously been referred to as Pastinachus sephen, which does not occur in Australia. Although the specific name has also been spelled as "atrus" in a number of publications, the correct spelling is "ater". 

Video of a Cowtail Stingray on the Gold Coast Seaway in southern Queensland.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2021, Pastinachus ater in Fishes of Australia, accessed 16 Apr 2024,

Cowtail Stingray, Pastinachus ater (Macleay 1883)

More Info


Widespread in northern Australia from about Shark Bay, Western Australia, to northern New South Wales, with stragglers south to at least Merimbula, New South Wales. Elsewhere the species occurs in West Papua (Indonesia), Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.
Inhabits shallow sandy and silty areas in intertidal lagoons, reef flats, reef faces, bays and estuaries in depths to 60 m. 


Feeds on small bony fishes and a range of benthic invertebrates including crustaceans, molluscs, polychaete worms and sipunculids.


Reproduction is ovoviviparous, and the embryos are sustained by histotroph ("uterine milk") before being born. Females produce two pups per litter, born at about 18 cm across (DW).


Taken regularly in small numbers as bycatch in commercial fisheries, including in demersal tangle nets, bottom trawls, longlines, Danish seine and beach seine fisheries throughout its range. In Australia this species is taken as bycatch in the Australian Northern Prawn Fishery and in the Queensland East Coast Trawl Fishery. However the introduction of turtle exclusion devices (TEDS) in these fisheries may have greatly reduced bycatch of large stingrays (Brewer et al. 2006).


In Shark Bay, Western Australia, Cowtail stingrays rest for several hours on shallow, sandy flats during high tide. When resting, they often form small groups, especially in turbid waters - arranging themselves in a "rosette" pattern with their tails pointing outward. This is thought to be an anti-predator behaviour, allowing the rays to see approaching predators.


The specific name is from the Latin ater (= black) in reference to the “jet glossy black” colour of the dorsal surface.

Species Citation

Taeniura atra Macleay 1883, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. 7(4): 598. Type locality: Port Moresby District, Papua New Guinea.


Bray, D.J. 2021


Atlas of Living Australia

Cowtail Stingray, Pastinachus ater (Macleay 1883)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Western Australian Museum. 292 pp. (as Pastinachus sephen ater)

Brewer, D., Heales, D., Milton, D., et al. 2006. The impact of turtle excluder devices and bycatch reduction devices on diverse tropical marine communities in Australia's northern prawn trawl fishery. Fisheries Research 81: 176-188.

Dulvy, N.K., Fowler, S.L., Musick, J.A., et al. 2014. Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. eLife 3: e00590.

Grant, E.M. 1975. Guide to Fishes. Brisbane : Queensland Government, Co-ordinator General’s Department 640 pp. 

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp. 

Larson, H.K., Williams, R.S. & Hammer, M.P. 2013. An annotated checklist of the fishes of the Northern Territory, Australia. Zootaxa 3696(1): 1-293

Last, P.R. & Compagno, L.J.V. 1999. Family Dasyatidae. pp. 1479-1505 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 3 pp. 1397-2068. (as Pastinachus sephen)

Last, P.R., Fahmi & G.J.P. Naylor. 2010. Pastinachus stellurostris sp. nov., a new stingray (Elasmobranchii: Myliobatiformes) from Indonesian Borneo. pp. 129-140 in Last, P.R., White, W.T. & Pogonoski, J.J. (eds) Descriptions of new sharks and rays from Borneo. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Paper no. 32

Last, P.R., Manjaji-Matsumoto, B.M., Naylor, G.J.P. & White, W.T. 2016. Family Dasyatidae pp. 522-618. In: Last, P.R., White, W.T., de Carvalho, M.R., Séret, B., Stehmann, M.F.W. & & Naylor, G.J.P. (eds) Rays of the World. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing, 800 pp.

Last, P. R., B. M. Manjaji, B.M. & Yearsley, G.K. 2005. Pastinachus solocirostris sp. nov., a new species of stingray (Elasmobranchii: Myliobatiformes) from the Indo-Malay Archipelago. Zootaxa 1040: 1-16.  (as Pastinachus sephen)

Last, P.R., Naylor, G.J.P. & Manjaji-Matsumoto, B.M. 2016. A revised classification of the family Dasyatidae (Chondrichthyes: Myliobatiformes) based on new morphological and molecular insights. Zootaxa 4139(3): 345–368.

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Canberra : CSIRO Australia 513 pp. 84 pls. (as Pastinachus sephen ater)

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia 2, 550 pp. (as Pastinachus atrus)

Macleay, W.J. 1883. Contributions to the knowledge of the fishes of New Guinea. No. 3. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 7(4): 585-598 See ref at BHL

Morgan, D.L., White, W.T. & Manjaji Matsumoto, B.M. 2016. Pastinachus ater. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T70682232A70708697. Downloaded on 11 March 2017.

Moore, G.I., Morrison, S.M. & Johnson, J.W. 2020. The distribution of shallow marine fishes of the Kimberley, Western Australia, based on a long-term dataset and multiple methods. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 85: 105–115

O'Shea, O.R., Thums, M., van Keulen, M., Kempster, R.M. & Meekan, M.G. 2013. Dietary partitioning by five sympatric species of stingray (Dasyatidae) on coral reefs. Iournal of Fish Biology 82: 1805–1820. (as Pastinachus atrus)

Saunders, T. & Carne, R. 2010. A Survey of Customary Fishing of Sharks and Stingrays Groote Eylandt. Fishery Report No. 105. Darwin : Northern Territory Government, 26 pp.

Semeniuk, C.A.D. & Dill, L.M. 2005. Cost/benefit analysis of group and solitary resting in the cowtail stingray, Pastinachus sephen. Behavioral Ecology 16 (2): 417-426. (as Pastinachus sephen

Semeniuk, C.A.D. & Dill, L.M. 2006. Anti-Predator Benefits of Mixed-Species Groups of Cowtail Stingrays (Pastinachus sephen) and Whiprays (Himantura uarnak) at Rest. Ethology 112: 33–43. (as Pastinachus sephen

Stead, D.G. 1963. Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas. Sydney : Angus & Robertson 211 pp. 63 figs. (as Dasyatis sephen)

White, W.T., Baje, L., Sabub, B., Appleyard, S.A., Pogonoski, J.J. & Mana, R.R. 2017. Sharks and Rays of Papua New Guinea. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research Monograph Series 189: 1-327 See ref online

White, W.T., Last, P.R., Stevens, J.D., Yearsley, G.K., Fahmi & Dharmadi 2006. Economically Important Sharks and Rays of Indonesia. ACIAR Publishing, Canberra, 329 pp. See ref online

Whitley, G.P. 1940. The Fishes of Australia. Part 1. The sharks, rays, devil-fish, and other primitive fishes of Australia and New Zealand. Sydney : Roy. Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 280 pp. 303 figs. (as Pastinachus sephen ater)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37035011

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Danger:Venomous spine on tail

Depth:1-60 m

Habitat:Marine, estuarine, reef associated

Max Size:300 cm TL; disc width 180 cm

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map