Temporal range: middle Eocene–Recent
|Little skate (Raja erinacea)|
L. S. Berg, 1940
Rajiformes is one of the four orders in the superorder Batoidea, flattened cartilaginous fishes related to sharks. Rajiforms are distinguished by the presence of greatly enlarged pectoral fins, which reach as far forward as the sides of the head, with a generally flattened body. The undulatory pectoral fin motion diagnostic to this taxon is known as rajiform locomotion. The eyes and spiracles are located on the upper surface of the head and the gill slits are on the underside of the body. Most species give birth to live young, although some lay eggs with a horny capsule ("mermaid's purse").
Rajoids typically have a dorsoventrally flattened body. The snout is slender and pointed and the wide mouth, often covered with a fleshy nasal flap, is on the underside of the head. The eyes and well-developed spiracles are located on the top of the head. In most species, the spiracles are large and are the main means of drawing water in for respiration. There is no nictitating membrane and the cornea is continuous with the skin surrounding the eyes. The gill slits are on the ventral surface just behind the head and there are five in all species except the sixgill stingray (Hexatrygon bickelli). The front few vertebrae are fused into a synarcual and this either articulates with the bones of the well-developed pectoral girdle or is fused to them, the suprascapulae uniting above the vertebral column. Most species have enlarged, thorn-like dermal denticles on their skin, often with a row of large denticles along the spine.
The pectoral fins are large, but not clearly demarcated from the body, and together with the body are known as the disc. They start from the side of the head in front of the gill openings and end at the caudal peduncle. There are up to two dorsal fins but no anal fin. A slender tail is clearly demarcated from the disc. The caudal fin varies in size between species and the rays have a whip-like tail with no caudal fin.
Species of the order Rajiformes are found throughout the world's oceans, from Arctic to Antarctic waters, and from shallow coastal shelves to open seas and abyssal regions. A few are found in rivers and some in estuaries, but most are marine, living near the sea bed at depths down to 3,000 m (9,800 ft) or more.
Thirteen families of rajoids are currently recognized:
The smooth skates, the Anacanthobatidae, contain a single genus, Anacanthobatis, of about 10 species. They are small fish living on the continental slopes of tropical and subtropical waters, and are native to Natal, South Africa, tropical West Africa, and Taiwan. Smooth skates have a filament extending from a rounded protuberance on the snout. Both the dorsal and ventral surfaces are smooth and have no dermal denticles. The tail is slender and a little shorter than the body. No dorsal fins are present and the caudal fin is small and membranous.
The whip-tail stingrays, family Dasyatidae, are found worldwide in tropical to temperate marine waters and a number of species are also found in fresh water. The dorsal fin is absent or indistinct and no caudal fin is seen. The tail is long and whip-like and usually tipped with a venomous spine. Whip-tail stingrays are ovoviviparous and bear live young.
The butterfly rays, Gymnuridae, contain one genus Gymnurus and about 12 species. It is found in shallow waters in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean. The body is flattened and the disc is very broad. The thread-like tail bears no dorsal or caudal fins.
The sixgill stingray is the only living member of the family Hexatrygonidae. It is found in deep water in the Indo-Pacific from South Africa to Hawaii, and is distinguished from other rajoids by having six rather than five gill slits. 
The eagle rays, manta rays, and cownose rays, family Myliobatidae, are large, free-swimming fish. The seven genera and about 42 species are found in tropical and warm temperate parts of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. They have large wing-like pectoral fins and a long tail terminating in a filament.
The deepwater stingray (Plesiobatis daviesi) is the only member of the family Plesiobatidae. It is widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific. It has no dorsal fin and the slender tail has one or two spines half-way along and a ribbon-like caudal fin running along the posterior part of the tail.
The discus rays or river stingrays, family Potamotrygonidae, are freshwater species found in rivers in South America that flow into the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The three genera contain about 18 species. The disc is nearly circular and its dorsal surface is covered in dermal denticles, tubercles, and thorns. A stinging spine occurs on the sometimes whip-like tail. These rays are ovoviviparous.
The skate family Rajidae contains 14 genera and around 200 species. They are found worldwide, but are relatively uncommon near coral reefs and in shallow tropical seas. A few species occur in brackish water. The disc shape is rhomboidal, and the tail long. Two dorsal fins are found and the caudal fin is much reduced. The pelvic fins have two lobes. Most species have rough skins with dermal denticles which are especially obvious along the spine. The eggs are laid in a protective hard case with string-like elongations at the four corners.
The bowmouth guitarfish (Rhina ancylostoma), the only member of the family Rhinidae, is found in the shallow tropical waters of the western Indo-Pacific Ocean. It has a wide, thick body, broad, triangular pectoral fins, two large, sickle-shaped dorsal fins, and a two-lobed crescentic caudal fin. The dorsal surface is covered with dermal denticles with a central ridge of thorny protuberances. The bowmouth guitarfish is ovoviviparous.
The guitarfishes, the Rhinobatidae, contain seven genera and about 45 species. They are found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, with most species occurring in tropical coastal locations. They are sometimes known as shovelnose sharks and are intermediate in form between the sharks and the skates, being less dorsally flattened than other rajoids. They have two large dorsal fins set behind the pelvic fins and a large, shark-like two-lobed caudal fin.
The stingarees or round stingrays in the family Urolophidae are native to the Indo-Pacific region. The genera Urobatis and Urotrygon have been hived off into the family Urotrygonidae. Members of this family have round or diamond-shaped discs and medium-length tails armed with one or more venomous spines and ending in leaf-shaped caudal fins. Some have small dorsal fins and lateral skin folds. The two genera, Urolophus and Trygonoptera, have about 30 species.
The round stingrays or round rays, family Urotrygonidae, are native to the tropical and warm temperate seas of the Americas. The two genera and 16 species in this family were formerly placed within the family Urolophidae. They have round discs, no dorsal fins, a long, slender tail, a venomous tail spine, and a distinct caudal fin.
In most rajoids, water for breathing is taken in through the spiracles rather than through the mouth and exits through the gill slits. Most species swim by undulating their enlarged pectoral fins, but the guitarfish propel themselves through the water with sideways movements of their tail and caudal fin. Most species are carnivores, feeding on molluscs and other invertebrates on the sea bed, and small fish, but the manta ray feeds on plankton sieved out of the water as it swims by its wide open mouth. Some species are viviparous, others ovoviviparous (both giving birth to live young), but the skates lay eggs in horny cases known as mermaid's purses. Most species are benthic, resting on the sandy or muddy sea bed, sometimes undulating their pectoral fins to stir up sediment and bury themselves shallowly. Others, like the manta ray, are pelagic, and continually cruise the ocean.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rajiformes.|
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- Johanson, Zerina; Trinajstic, Kate; Carr, Robert; Ritchie, Alex (2013). "Evolution and development of the synarcual in early vertebrates". Zoomorphology 132 (1): 95–110. doi:10.1007/s00435-012-0169-9.
- Vanden Berghe, Edward (2013). "Rajiformes". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
- "Family Anacanthobatidae - Smooth skates". FishBase. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.). 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- van der Land, Jacob (2013). "Dasyatidae". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
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- Compagno, L.J.V.; Last, P.R. (1999). "Gymnuridae: Butterfly rays". In Carpenter, K. E.; Niem, V. H. (eds.). FAO Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes: The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. pp. 1506–1510. ISBN 92-5-104302-7.
- Bailly, Nicolas (2013). "Hexatrygon Heemstra & Smith, 1980". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
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- Weinheimer, Monica; Jonna, R. Jamil (2003). "Myliobatidae: Eagle and manta rays". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan. Retrieved 2013-08-14.
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- "Family Potamotrygonidae - River stingrays". FishBase. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.). 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "Family Rajidae - Skates". FishBase. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.). 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- Bailly, Nicolas (2013). "Rhina ancylostoma Bloch & Schneider, 1801". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
- "Family Rhinobatidae - Guitarfishes". FishBase. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.). 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "Family Urolophidae - Round rays". FishBase. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.). 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "Family Urotrygonidae - American round stingrays". FishBase. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.). 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-15.