Stingray: Generally Non-Confrontational
Professor of Biology Joan Magnusen Sheds Light on “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin’s Death
Headaches, nausea, pain, and sometimes arrhythmia are symptoms caused by the toxins that a stingray injects through the barb in its tail, according to Keuka College Professor of Biology Joan Magnusen.
These symptoms are “extremely uncomfortable but usually not fatal,” said Magnusen, whose work in marine/estuarine biology has focused largely on the jellyfish, which she studied for her dissertation.
“Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin died Monday after being stuck by a stingray’s barb while filming off the Great Barrier Reef.
“From the reports I read about the Irwin incident, the barb when into his chest, probably into his heart,” said Magnsuen. “A concentrated dose of the poison in the heart muscle probably interfered with his heartbeat and that is likely how he died.”
According to Magnusen, the stingray is generally non-confrontational.
“They would rather flee than fight,” said Magnusen, which is why people are “advised to shuffle their feet when stingrays might be in the sand through which they are walking.”
According to Magnusen, many types of jellyfish produce toxins that are painful to humans.
“Jellyfish use their toxins to paralyze fish that they eat,” she said. “The stingray, a type of fish most closely related to sharks, doesn’t use the barb to catch its own food—crabs and shrimp—but uses the barb as defense against animals that would try to eat it, such as sharks and other large carnivorous fish.
“In neither case are humans the intended recipient of the toxins,” added Magnusen. “But, because humans are related to fish in an evolutionary sense, our nervous systems are similar, so what will be toxic and painful to fish would also affect humans in a similar way.”