The Thornback Ray (Raja clavata) is an extremely popular species that is targeted and tagged by many anglers in Scotland; at times it is also the source of considerable confusion regarding identification due to the wide range colouration and patterns seen on Thornbacks.
Thornback Rays are found over a very wide range of habitats from clean, shallow sands to deep muddy habitats, this leads to a wide range of colouration as the rays try to blend into the sea bed.
In some areas Thornbacks range from dark brown to purple and often have many grey or black spots and markings though in other areas the dorsal surface of the ray may be sandy brown or grey in colour leading to the species being mistaken for Blonde, Cuckoo or Spotted Rays.
Like colouration, the thorns on Thornback Rays are also very variable. Rays may have many thorns that cover the dorsal surface particularly along the spine and tail and some might even have thorns on the ventral surface. On other Thornbacks the thorns that give the ray its name might be completely absent.
Though patterns vary significantly Thornback Rays consistently show a banded tail of alternating dark and lighter stripes though in some cases the feature may be less noticeable. Above are a range of excellent illustrations from Dr Dietrich Bürkel showing the colour variations often seen on Thornback Rays.
For more information on catching and identifying rays around Scotland check out the Fishing and ID Guides in our tutorials section and for more information on the Thornback Ray in particular have a look at our Thornback Fishing and ID Guide!