Monday, September 04, 2006

Animal of the Week September 04, 2006 -- RIP Steve Irwin

RIP Steve Irwin,

I heard the news as the half-light of dawn crept around the the edges of my curtains, with sleep still gooing up the corners of my tired little eyes, I couldn't quite believe it, but it's true. Steve Irwin, all-round Australian, crocodile harasser, and conservationist has been killed by a stingray sting to the chest. Although I prefer a less intrusive tv presenter to show me animals, as a populariser of conservation issues and advocate for maligned reptiles, Irwin was hugely successful and popular.

As a mark of respect, this week's animal of the week is Dasyatis brevicaudata (smooth stingray, bull ray, short-tail stingray), reportedly the species that did for big Steve. There are about 70 species of stingray, some living in freshwater in Asia, Africa, and South America, but most living in marine environments. The smooth stingray is the largest marine species reaching 430 cm in length and weighing up to 350 kg.

All rays are, like sharks, cartilaginous fish; but unlike sharks, because their eyes are on the top of the body and the mouth on the bottom, they never see what they eat, rather they use smell and electro reception to locate prey beneath them. Most eat molluscs, crustaceans, and small fish. The spine is used in defence and the raising of the tail is an automatic reflex to a threat or attack, there is no intent to harm.

Stingrays have one or more razor-sharp spines on their tails, in large species the spines can reach over 180 mm in length. These barbs are coated with fierce toxins that cause substantial pain. Generally stingrays are not aggressive and avoid confrontation, it is very rare for people to be stung, usually this only happens if someone treads on a concealed fish, typically a resulting sting to the leg will be uncomfortable for a couple of days, but rarely fatal. In very rare cases, as in Irwin's, a sting to the heart or chest can puncture a vital organ or cause severe toxicity sufficient to kill.

The producer of the show he was filming at the time of the incident says that, if Steve were here, he would say, simply "Crocs rule!". A bit of a downbeat topic today. But he died doing what he was best known for and something he loved. So big respect to Steve and his family and friends.


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