Meet the Skates

About the skates

Skates are closely related to sharks and rays, and are found along the east coast.

Little skate, Leucoraja erinacea

Pictured here is an adult little skate, Leucoraja erinacea.Skates appeared 450 million years ago and have not changed much since. Scientists call animals like this ‘living fossils’.  Because they are considered living fosssils, skates are a great experimental model for asking questions about how organs form and evolved over millions of years. Seeing the skate here in its fully developed form instills a sense of appreciation towards our work. We are fortunate to be able to research the processes that are responsible for the growth of this beautiful creature. -KC

If you’ve ever seen a mermaid’s purse on the beach, you probably were looking at a skate egg case. Skates lay fertilized egg cases, and the skate develops inside the casing until it hatches and swims away. All of our skate egg cases are sourced from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Founded in 1888, the Marine Biological Laboratory is a private, nonprofit research laboratory devoted to progressing researching and furthering education.  The MBL is affiliated with the University of Chicago, but works with a wide range of academic institutions.  -CM

Skate embryos

Inside a skate egg case is a round yolk sac.  Attached to the yolk is a small developing embryo. The embryos gets all the nutrients it needs to grow from the yolk that it is attached to by an umbilical cord.  It takes over 13 months for a skate embryo to full grow and hatch out of the egg!

How fun are these dancing skate embryos?

Spiral Intestine


One of the skate’s most unique features is its spiral intestinal in the digestive tract!  While most vertebrates have a long, coiling intestine, the skate’s consists of a short, wide spiral structure.  A focus of our lab is to understand how the spiral intestine forms in the embryo, and to uncover how the intestine evolved.  This picture is a microCT image of the inside of a skate embryo.You can see the spiral of the intestine in the center. –CM