Stingrays are in the news again, specifically a particular lonesome stingray in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They’re interesting creatures. They’re all flat, and their eyes are on one side and their mouths on the other side so they can’t see what they’re eating. Which is probably a good idea since they’re eating unattractive fish and sea loogies like clams and oysters. They’re mostly made of cartilage, which is basically slouchy undercooked bone, such as the bendy material in your ears that keep them from flopping over like a beagle’s.

This particular North Carolina stingray is notable because she is pregnant. It’s easy to tell when a really flat fish is pregnant, and in this case she had a lump that looked like a biscuit on her back. But her keepers thought it was a tumor, because she hadn’t been near another stingray for over eight years. Upon further examination, the biscuit was revealed to be puppies. At least four of them. No telling where they came from, but the pups are due any day. They will be adorable.

Stingrays are oviviviviviviviparous. Their pups develop inside them fed by the yolk in their eggs and eventually they are expelled as complete critters, but distinguish themselves from us by forgoing the whole placenta thing.

Our star stingray has been alone in a tank with four sharks for eight years. Nobody is accusing the sharks of anything. They are not implicated in the pregnancy but have agreed to write up the paternity suit.

That is not quite true. In fact, many people have fingered the sharks in all this, but senior shark scientist Demian Chapman says “I give a shark the same odds of being the father that I would give Elvis…of being the father.” So, maybe!

Weirdly, scientists don’t really know what’s going on here. A while back a couple British stingrays gave birth after having not been around male stingray for over two years. At the time researchers assumed they had custody of some sperm before capture and just hung onto it, the way you keep the concert ticket from a really good date. Eventually, they elected to complete fertilization because that stuff doesn’t get any fresher over time. Perhaps our North Carolina stingray has a greater funk tolerance than the two in the UK.

But it’s also possible she just worked up the pups on her own out of pure boredom and ingenuity. In some creatures, an egg might be produced along with a smaller bonus cell, and they can become fruitful together and multiply without a sperm in sight. Given that male stingrays’ idea of foreplay is to creep up on a female and bite her repeatedly about the pectoral disc, which means most of her, this method may have evolved early. Parthenogenesis is known to occur in a number of species including crocodiles, condors, and Catholic girls in trouble.

This is as good a time as any to note that a “stingray,” in modern parlance, refers to the act of biting a scrotum during sex. Really, there’s no good time.

Stingrays rarely attack people unless they’re stepped on, which is what they have in common with spiders and some cats. Mostly people don’t die from it. Steve Irwin just got unlucky although it must be said that his likelihood of dying from some godawful marine monster was considerably higher than mine would be. I prefer to be at least sixty miles away from the ocean. Come the big earthquake, that coastline is likely to come to me, but I’ll take my chances.