Leucoraja melitensis

Leucoraja melitensis

Common name : Maltese ray
Order: Rajiformes
Family: Rajidae 
Synonyms: Raja melitensis
Misidentifications: None.

  • photo credit: xampejn

Short description

Medium-sized skate. Rhomboid disk, with sinuous anterior margins. Short muzzle with tip clearly pronounced.  Triangular patch of thornlets on nape/shoulder area

Color: Dorsal surface light brown, pinkish. Big ocella on each pectoral fin. Triangular patch of thornlets on nape/shoulder area.


  • Total length (TL): up to 50 cm
  • Weight: ~2 kg

Swimming pattern: Undulatory and pelvic fin locomotion (walking and punting).

Egg case

Small capsules with rectangular shape and pointed horns at the corners, deposited in sandy or muddy bottoms. Smooth surface, without fibres. Longer anterior apron than the posterior. Moderate and thin posterior horns, whereas anterior horns are very long, thin and intersecting. Absence of lateral keels.

Fresh color: yellowish with brown shades.

Size: 42.3-44.1 mm length, 22.4-26 mm wide.

Distinctive features:

  • Egg-case length < 3 cm
  • Moderate posterior horns and very long, thin and intersecting.
  • No keel.

Leucoraja: Egg case with long pointed horns. Anterior horns length greater than twice the posterior. Rear horns relatively long.

Rajiformes / Rajidae: Rectangular egg-case, width no greater than twice the capsule length.

Biology / Ecology

Feeds on crustaceans.

Reproduction: Oviparous. Size at maturity (TL): ~40 cm. 10-56 eggs per year in spring and autumn, at 200 m of depth.

Habitat: Demersal species living in temperate water, found in a wide range from surface to 800 m of depth, but more common in the upper continental slope.

One of the four endemic species from the Mediterranean Sea.

Distinguishing characteristics

  • Triangular patch of thornlets on nape/shoulder area
  • 3 small, dark spots on each pectoral fin.
  • Muzzle short and pronounced.
  • One big ocella on each pectoral fin.

Rajiformes / Rajidae: Depressed body. Circular to rhombic disc. Tail well demarcated from disc.


Worldwide: Endemic species from Mediterranean Sea. Absent from Black Sea.


  • Occurrence: Very rare.
  • Latest records: Malta (1994-2018), Northern Tunisia (2017), Sardinia (2017), Strait of Sicily – Italy  (2012-2015), Aegean Sea (2012-2015).

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Threats: Taken as bycatch by bottom trawlers and longline. Often discarded.

Protection level:

  • Mediterranean: Critically Endangered (IUCN 2015, last assessment: 2014)

Key references

  • Ben Amor M. M., Ounifi-Ben Amor K., Capapé C. 2018. Record of a critically endangered skate, Leucoraja melitensis (Chondrichthyes: Rajidae) from Tunisian coast (central Mediterranean). Thalassia Salentina 40: 9-16.
  • Carpentieri P., Nastasi A., Sessa M., Srour A. 2021. Incidental catch of vulnerable species in Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries – A review. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Studies and Reviews 101: I-317.
  • Follesa M. C., Marongiu M. F., Zupa W., Bellodi A., Cau A., Cannas R., Colloca F., Djurovic M., Isajlovic I., Jadaud A., Manfredi C., Mulas A., Peristeraki P., Porcu C., Ramirez-Amaro S., Salmerón Jiménez F., Serena F., Sion L., Thasitis I., Cau A., Carbonara P. 2019. Spatial variability of Chondrichthyes in the northern Mediterranean. Scientia Marina 83(S1): 81-100.
  • Geraci M. L., Ragonese S., Scannella D., Falsone F., Gancitano V., Mifsud J., Gambin M., Said A., Vitale S. 2021. Batoid abundances, spatial distribution, and life history traits in the Strait of Sicily (Central Mediterranean Sea): Bridging a knowledge gap through three decades of survey. Animals 11(8): 2189.
  • Porcu C., Marongiu M.F., Bellodi A., Cannas R., Cau A., Melis R., Mulas A., Soldovilla G., Vacca L., Follesa M.C. 2017. Morphological descriptions of the eggcases of skates (Rajidae) from the central-western Mediterranean, with notes on their distribution. Helgoland Marine Research 71(1): 1-14.