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the web of life in southern Africa

Rostroraja alba (Spearnose skate)

(Lacepede, 1803

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Chondrichthyes > Elasmobranchii > Batoidei > Rajoidei > Rajidae

Rostroraja alba (Spearnose skate) [Illustration by Ann Hecht ]

Identification

A giant skate with a broad-based, abruptly narrow-tipped snout covered with small sharp thorns, angular pectoral disk, no large thorns on nape and back, three rows of large thorns on tail. Hatchling young are plain reddish-brown above, often with blue spots, and white below with broad dusky grey margins on the disk; larger immatures and adults are grey above with numerous small white spots, white below. Underside without black pores.

Size

To at least 2.3 m TL and about 1.8 m DW.

Range

Virtually the entire area, from Namibia to central Mozambique; Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea.

 

Habitat

Found mainly on sandy bottom, in shallower water off the Cape coast than Natal and southern Mozambique, where it ranges from 30 to 366 m. In western Cape it is often found close inshore, in the intertidal and subtidal in shallow bays.

Biology

Common. A formidable bottom predator that eats bony fish, including hake, kingklip, anchovy, gobies, maasbanker, gurnard, snoek, round herring, horsefish, sandrat, greeneye, elf, sole, and monkfish, fish offal, other elasmobranchs including biscuit skates, dogfish, izak and yellowspotted catsharks, crabs, shrimp, mysids, octopi and cuttlefish. Eggs are laid in huge cases that take up to 18 months to hatch.

Human Impact

Caught by shore and skiboat anglers and by commercial trawlers. When hooked it gives a powerful fight. Its heavy jaws can give a painful bite, as one of us can attest.

Text by Leonard J.V. Compagno, David A. Ebert and Malcolm J. Smale