Stingray Stings Symptoms and Treatment

Most of the time stings are not deadly

A stingray sting can be very painful and can also cause symptoms like nausea and fainting. In rare cases, you may have trouble breathing. In general, however, stingray stings aren't fatal unless you receive multiple stings or they are in a vital part of your body.

Stingrays have whip-like tails with barbed ends. The barbs contain a painful venom. Not much is known about the toxin in a stingray sting, other than it is protein-based and can be dangerous.

Paul Kay / Getty Images

How Do Stingrays Sting?

A stingray's stinger is called a caudal barb. The barb is actually a modified scale covered by a layer of skin and mucus. The stingray's venom is kept in grooves on the underside of the barb. The stingray delivers the venom by whipping its tail and piercing the skin with its barb.

Stingrays are not usually aggressive. Stings tend to occur when people accidentally step on a stingray or surprise it in some other way.

Australian conservationist Steve Irwin was killed in 2006 when a stingray struck at him several times, hitting him in the chest. It is widely accepted that his physical injuries, rather than any venom, resulted in his death.

Symptoms of Stingray Stings

  • Extreme pain (can last as long as two days)
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling around the wound
  • Redness or blue coloring around the wound
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Seizures
  • Irregular pulse
  • Low blood pressure

Because most stings come from stingrays that are stepped on by beachgoers, most injuries happen to feet and legs. Fishermen are the exception, getting stung on the arms more often than anywhere else. Regardless of the location of the sting, the treatment should be the same. If you suspect a stingray sting, follow these steps:

What to Do When Stung by a Stingray

  1. Stay Safe. Don't panic. Stingrays sting to scare us away. The sting is painful, but usually not very harmful. Patients should make their way back to the safety of shore by shuffling their feet (so they won't be stung again).
  2. Call 911. The patient of a stingray sting will need medical attention. Stingray stings are very painful and patients will at a minimum need to undergo treatment for pain control. Follow universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if you have it.
  3. Control any bleeding and follow basic first aid steps while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
  4. Clean the wound with soap and fresh, clean water. If that's not available, at least rinse the wound with copious amounts of sea water.
  5. Remove small parts or barbs of the stinger with tweezers or pliers. Only remove stingers if emergency medical care will be significantly delayed. A long stinger would be considered an impaled object. Do not remove stingers from the chest or abdomen! Removing stingers can lead to severe bleeding. Remember to control bleeding from any tissue damage.
  6. If medical care will be significantly delayed, some of the toxins may be neutralized by immersing the cleaned wound in fresh, hot water (110 - 113 degrees Fahrenheit) or by placing towels soaked in hot water on the wound. Be careful not to make the water too hot and scald (burn) the victim.

Incidence of Stingray Stings

There are approximately 1,500 stingray stings in the United States every year. Most of the stingray stings happen on warm beaches in states like Florida or California. Conventional wisdom says to shuffle your feet to let the stingrays know you're coming. Of course, you're probably more likely to stub your toe on a rock than you are to step on a stingray.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a stingray sting feel like?

    After the initial pain from being struck, the pain usually becomes extremely intense and throbbing. If you are stung on the foot, the pain can spread up your leg.

  • What does a stingray sting look like?

    A stingray sting can cause minor or major bleeding depending on the wound. It may cause swelling, discoloration, or bruising around the puncture site.

  • How long will a stingray sting hurt?

    The pain from a stingray sting is usually at its worst in the first 90 minutes after the sting. It should go away gradually over the course of 6 to 48 hours. Sometimes the pain can last longer. Watch for signs of infection and see your healthcare provider if the sting becomes discolored, if the pain doesn't diminish, or if you experience swelling in other parts of your body.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jani BK, Mohanty C. Hazardous marine life: stingray injury and its multimodal management. J Mar Med Soc. 2019;21(2):182. doi:10.4103/jmms.jmms_24_19

  2. Biography. Steve Irwin biography.

  3. Merck Manual Professional Version. Stingray stings.

  4. Meyer PK. Stingray injuries. Wilderness Environ Med. 1997;8(1):24-8. doi:10.1580/1080-6032(1997)008[0024:si];2

  5. Mount Sinai. Stingray.

  6. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Stingray stings.

  7. Rensch GP, Elston DM. Aquatic antagonists: stingray injury update. Cutis. 2019;103(3):138-140.

  8. County of Los Angeles Fire Department. Stingray information handout.

Additional Reading
  • Clark AT, Clark RF, Cantrell FL. A Retrospective Review of the Presentation and Treatment of Stingray Stings Reported to a Poison Control System. Am J Ther. 2016 Feb 5.

  • Clark RF, Girard RH, Rao D, Ly BT, Davis DP. Stingray Envenomation: A Retrospective Review of Clinical Presentation and Treatment in 119 Cases. J Emerg Med. 2007 Jul;33(1):33-7.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.