The food and feeding habits of rays (genus Raja) have received more attention than other aspects of their biology. Being nocturnal feeders (Bigelow & Schroeder, 1953), they have been thought to locate food by smell rather than by sight (Steven, 1930, 1947). More recently, the ability of the electric receptors to detect even weak action potentials has been linked with food foraging (Kalmijn, 1966). Wilson (1953) observed that the behaviour of Raja while apprehending prey was similar to that of Torpedo spp. The functional advantages of a ventral mouth as an adaptation to bottom feeding have been stressed by Alexander (1970).
Day (1880–1884) recorded that rays ate molluscs, crustaceans and fish. That the young of Raja clavata, R. montagui (as R. maculata), R. naevus and R. brachyura feed on crustaceans was observed by Clark (1922). Steven (1930, 1932, 1947) confirmed this in a wider age sample of the same species, adding that juveniles which ate amphipods and crangonids later changed to Upogebia, Portunus and Corystes cassivelaunus, whereas the adults were highly piscivorous and sometimes cannibalistic. Both Clark and Steven obtained their fish close to Plymouth. Lazzareto (1964) and du Buit (1969), largely corroborating the above, included polychaetes in the list of food items but specified no differentiation according to size.
Holden & Tucker (1974), recording only presence or absence of food items, studied R. clavata, R. brachyura, R. montagui and R. naevus from a much wider area.