The little skate (Leucoraja erinacea) is also known as the summer skate, little common skate, common skate, hedgehog skate, and tobacco box skate. They are classified as elasmobranchs, which means they are related to sharks and rays.
Little skates are an Atlantic Ocean species that that live on the ocean bottom. In some areas, they are harvested and used as bait for other fisheries.
Like winter skates, little skates have a rounded snout and pectoral wings. They can grow to a length of about 21 inches and a weight of about 2 pounds.
The dorsal side of a little skate may be dark brown, gray or light and dark brown in color. They may have dark spots on their dorsal surface. The ventral surface (underside) is lighter in coloration and may be white or light gray. Little skates have thorny spines which vary in size and location depending on age and sex. This species can be confused with the winter skate, which has a similar coloration and also lives in the North Atlantic Ocean.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Superclass: Gnathostomata
- Superclass: Pisces
- Class: Elasmobranchii
- Subclass: Neoselachii
- Infraclass: Batoidea
- Order: Rajiformes
- Family: Rajidae
- Genus: Leucoraja
- Species: erinacea
Habitat and Distribution
Little skates are found in the North Atlantic Ocean from southeastern Newfoundland, Canada to North Carolina, U.S.
These are a bottom-dwelling species that prefer shallow waters but may be found in water depths up to about 300 feet. They frequent sandy or gravel-covered bottoms.
The little skate has a varied diet that includes crustaceans, amphipods, polychaetes, mollusks, and fish. Unlike the similar-looking winter skate, which seems to be more active during the night, little skates are more active during the day.
Little skates reproduce sexually, with internal fertilization. One obvious difference between male and female skates is that males have claspers (near their pelvic fins, that lie on each side of the tail) that are used to transfer sperm to fertilize the female's eggs. The eggs are laid in a capsule commonly called "mermaid's purse." These capsules, which are about 2 inches long, have tendrils on each corner so that they can anchor to seaweed. The female produces 10 to 35 eggs per year. Within the capsule, the young are nourished by egg yolk. The gestation period is several months, after which the young skates hatch. They are 3 to 4 inches long when they are born and look like miniature adults.
Conservation and Human Uses
Little skates are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. They may be captured for food and the wings sold as imitation scallops or for use as other dishes. More often, they are harvested to be used as bait for lobster and eel traps. According to NOAA, that harvest occurs in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.
References and Further Information:
- Bailly, N. 2014. Leucoraja erinacea (Mitchill, 1825). In: Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. (2014) FishBase. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species.
- Kittle, K. Little Skate. Florida Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 28, 2015.
- NOAA Fisheries: Greater Atlantic Region. What We're Doing to Learn More About Skates. Accessed February 28, 2015.
- Sulak, K.J., MacWhirter, P.D., Luke, K.E., Norem, A.D., Miller, J.M., Cooper, J.A., and L.E. Harris. Identification Guide to Skates (Family Rajidae) of the Canadian Atlantic and Adjacent Regions. Accessed February 28, 2015.
- Sulikowski, J., Kulka, D.W. & Gedamke, T. 2009. Leucoraja erinacea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. Downloaded on 28 February 2015.