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How to avoid stingrays and what to do if you’ve been stung

sting ray sting

The barbed stinger situated on a stingray’s tail is something out of a guide to medieval torture. While they are not aggressive animals, stingrays have the unfortunate ability (for us, anyway) to almost complete disguise themselves while swimming around the ocean floor, and they happen to love hanging out in the shallow waters where you are liking to be wading.

In this article, we will tell you the most effective ways to avoid a sting ray sting while also explaining what to do if you are unlucky enough to step on a ray.

Avoiding stingrays

Stingrays have no interest in stinging you. They certainly won’t seek you out. Stings usually result from stepping on a stingray which then releases its spiny barb as a defense reflex. Therefore, your mission is simply to avoid walking on one. Sounds easy enough, right?

  • The famed “stingray shuffle” does have some merit to it. Instead of lifting your feet off the ground each time you take a step, shuffle your feet, keeping them on the ground at all times. This will prevent you from surprising a stingray from above, and it may also scare them off before you arrive on the scene.
  • Wear protective footwear. Sturdy water shoes may prevent the barbs from penetrating your foot. In addition, some companies actually make stingray leggings and guards which can be worn if you are going to an area that has an especially high concentration of rays.
  • Use a stick or a pole. If you are unable to see the seabed, it’s best to poke around with something before you start wading in the water. A stick or a pole will help scare off any rays that might be hanging around, allowing you to avoid jumping in directly on top of one.

Despite these precautions, your luck may run out, and you may find yourself with a barb stuck in your foot. What do you do then?

How to treat a stingray wound

Treatment for a sting depends on how many barbs penetrate the skin, and how deep they go.

  • If there is blood, stop the bleeding first. A particularly nasty sting can result in bleeding. Before anything else, stem the blood flow and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • For minor stings, you can remove the barbs with tweezers if they are stuck in the skin. Afterwards, wash the site of the wound with warm soap and water.
  • Once the barbs are removed and you have washed the wound site, plunge your foot into the hottest water you can tolerate. The heat neutralizes the venom and it is the best way to get some relief from the pain, which can be excruciating.
  • Seek medical attention. Even if you only experienced a minor sting, it is best to be examined by a doctor in order to determine whether or not all of the barbs have been fully removed from the site of the wound.

I have never (*knocks on wood*) been stung by a stingray, but I know several friends who have had the misfortune. Most recently, I met a fellow traveler who was stung by a stingray in a place that had very primitive medical care (Guinea-Bissau). His recovery time was significant, and it certainly affected his trip over the course of several weeks. If you will be swimming in a developing world country, try to take as many precautions as possible, including using sturdy footwear and the stingray shuffle.

If you have been stung by a stingray before, please share your experience in the comments below.

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