Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Februaray: Cownose ray


If you’ve ever been to an aquarium that has a ray touch pool, you’ve probably encountered these guys up close already. Cownose ray faces seem to be particularly appealing to a lot of people – they’ve definitely got a distinctive look! Named after their unique head shape, which is a lot like the nose of a cow, cownose rays are actually a Near Threatened species that ranges from the western Atlantic all the way down to the far end of Brazil. There are two unusual subrostral lobes on its underside that help it forage in the substrate for tasty invertebrates.

See more of my Februaray sketches using this handy tag!


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Februaray: Ocellate river stingray


I’ve never seen an ocellate river stingray in person, but their colouration fascinates me. So does their lifestyle – it’s a freshwater species! Though these guys in particular are currently classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, the threats to freshwater elasmobranchs become all the more apparent when you consider just how much we impact our rivers and streams. Not being able to know how well or poorly a species is doing can make managing their conservation quite difficult.

I added a bit of digital colour to this sketch to show their awesome markings. I saved up for an iPad in December and have been having a blast getting back into digital art using a stylus; it’s a great feeling to be able to create artwork – even “paint” – on the go.


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Februaray: Black blotched fantail ray

When most people think of stingrays they’re probably envisioning something about the size of the lid of your average trash can. The black blotched fantail ray is a big stingray though, and quite a sight to behold as it sweeps along the bottom like a forgotten 330 lb blanket.

I’m looking forward to having some time this weekend to produce some more Februaray contributions that are a lot more finished than the sketchbook pages I’ve shared so far!


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FebruaRAY: Spotted eagle rays

Getting ready to feed a tasty clam to this eager fellow.

Getting ready to feed a tasty clam to this eager fellow. I’m trying hard not to grin like an utter moron.

For tonight’s FebruaRAY post I’m sharing another page from my sketchbook. Spotted eagle rays are the champions of being completely bizarre-looking but ridiculously endearing at the same time. They have one of the strangest faces of all elasmobranchs – the fleshy snout forms a “bill” that they use to dig around in the sediment for delicious mollusks, but it also gives them an oddly human face. I was recently feeding a group of these guys, and yes, it was awesome. It’s actually a bit startling to remember just how big they can get: an adult can measure almost 11 feet across and more than 16 feet long including the tail.

What’s FebruaRAY? I’m dedicating all of my art time this month to the vastly underappreciated Batoidea! Keep checking back for lots more as I work my way through just a few of the ~560 species of rays and skates.


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It’s FebruaRAY!

You may have heard some big elasmobranch news a couple of weeks ago: the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group published the first-ever global analysis of sharks, rays and chimeras, and the results were not good. It found that a quarter of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, putting them at a substantially higher risk than other groups of animals. That’s pretty huge. Especially disturbing is the fact that rays are actually more at risk than sharks are.

Rays are essentially flat sharks, but they don’t garner nearly the attention that their more well-known relatives do. Of course, you get the rockstar manta rays and aquarium touch pool favourites, but on the whole, rays are really underloved. I’d like to help change that.

So, for the entire month, I’m celebrating FebruaRAY. (I’m not sorry for the name.) As often as I can over the coming weeks, I’m going to draw and share art I’ve created that showcases some of my favourite ray species. I love rays dearly, but even I’m guilty of picking more traditionally “paintable” marine wildlife over them. Here’s to changing that!

My first Februaray offering is a double – two messy pages from my sketchbook. I was thrilled to hear that Sweet Pea, a bowmouth guitarfish (or shark ray – just to be confusing) at the Newport Aquarium gave birth very recently, which is particularly fantastic because this marks the first time this species has reproduced in human care. Guitarfishes are actually one of the most threatened families of rays. Go Sweet Pea! (Please do click on that link and to see photos of her pups. There’s little on the planet cuter than elasmobranch babies!)

Last Monday I had the undeniably awesome experience of being in the water with a small school of lesser devil rays (Mobula hypostoma) during feeding time. I was already kind of in love with these guys, who you’d not be too wrong to think of as tiny, hyperactive manta rays, but experiencing them so close and feeling the water move as they zig-zagged so effortlessly around me has me head over heels for them.

Please do feel free to suggest more ray species for me to draw! What is YOUR favourite?