There are quite a few creatures in the animal kingdom that have a bit of a bad reputation because of what they look like or because of a handful of bad experiences that, while rare, happened to be well televised. It's safe to count the southern stingray among these.

It would be easy to find them intimidating at first glance, thanks to their sword-shaped tails. The truth is, these are mostly harmless creatures that actually thrive on human attention. Tourists enjoying Key West diving locations have come to enjoy the company of the stingray, even going so far as to feed them from hand with pieces of fish or shrimp.

There are some great sites along the Western Atlantic Ocean - all the way from Brazil to New Jersey - where divers and snorkelers can find entire colonies of stingrays to interact with. The one or two bad bits of publicity that the stingray has received in recent years were due to freak accidents where stingrays were found alone, hiding amid silt or sand. In larger numbers, they are almost always harmless and even enjoy "petting" on their dorsal side, not unlike a cat. Their skin has a slick rubbery feel and is typically green or olive brown in adult specimens, while younger stingrays are grey or even white.

If you ever have the chance to visit with these creatures in their natural habitat, give it serious thought. Once you've seen them up close, it will be impossible to look at a stingray quite the same way again.