Thorny Skate | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Thorny Skate

Amblyraja radiata

Also known as

Thorny back, thornback, maiden ray, starry ray, starry skate


North Atlantic; Northwest Atlantic from Greenland and Hudson Bay South Carolina


Soft bottoms

Feeding Habits

Active predator

Conservation Status

Special concern/data deficient


Order Rajiformes (skates & relatives); Family Rajidae (skates)


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Skates may look similar to flatfish, but they are actually much more closely related to sharks. Like sharks, a skate’s skeleton is made up of cartilage, which is softer and more flexible than bone. Skates commonly have small spines or modified scales on their bodies, but the thorny skate is aptly named because it is practically covered in these tiny thorny looking spines. They have a row of 10 to 20 large, conspicuous spines that run along their midline down their back and reaching their tail. They also have one large spine in front of and one behind each eye, large spines on each shoulder, and numerous smaller spines on their snout, pectoral fins and tail.

Thorny skates are flat and shaped like a rhomboid. They have a bluntly triangular snout and tail that is shorter than their body, with two dorsal fins at the end. Their eyes are on the dorsal (top) side of their body and their gills and mouth are on the ventral (under) side. Thorny skates are typically brown on their dorsal side with irregular dark spots, while their ventral side is white. They are rather large and can grow to just over 100 centimetres long from their snout to the tip of their tail; however their size varies greatly depending on geography.