This month we're showcasing the 'Common Skate', now known to be 2 different species – the Flapper & Blue Skate. Sadly, neither of these are quite so common these days…

The ‘Common Skate’ was first described in 1758 and was once abundant across the continental shelf of the Northeast Atlantic. In the 19th Century attention was drawn to the fact that this species was likely to be 2 different species. But an influential study in 1926 insisted otherwise. It wasn’t until 2009, that genetic research confirmed this was actually the case. The ‘Common Skate’ was then recognised as 2 species in 2010.

Today the ‘Common Skate complex’ consists of the Blue Skate (Dipturus batis) and Flapper Skate (Dipturus intermedius). The Blue Skate is smaller in size with a more southernly range. While the Flapper Skate is much larger and generally found further north.

Before this significant discovery, the Common Skate was considered one of the most endangered species in the UK. It was first designated a Prohibited Species in 2009, meaning it cannot be targeted by EU fishing vessels in certain sea areas. Both species remain Prohibited.

With 2 species being masked under the one name, their numbers could now be cause for even greater concern. Due to the historic taxonomic confusion, information about both species remains limited. So further research is vital to discover how we can act to better protect them.


The Flapper Skate is the biggest skate in Europe. Possibly even the world! They can reach up to 3m in length with a wingspan of 2m and weigh more than 100kg!

Once widespread across large parts of the Northeast Atlantic, they're now locally extinct from much of their former range. This is largely due to unsustainable fishing throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. Despite this, they can still be found from Iceland, Norway, and the northern North Sea around to the western British Isles and Celtic Sea.

These bottom-dwelling skates live in coastal waters on the soft sandy seabed or hard gravel, down to depths of around 600m. Whilst mostly using their powerful jaws to feed on crustaceans, Flapper Skates also have the speed and manoeuvrability to catch fast swimming fish, such as mackerel.

The Flapper Skate is dark olive-green in colour. Their wings have beautiful circular markings made up of pale spots. These form eye-like markings known as a pseudo-ocellus. As they mature Flapper Skates can change colour, with their upper body becoming more greyish brown. Younger individuals are darker underneath, becoming lighter with age.

Reaching sexual maturity at around 11 years (197cm), females lay approximately 40 eggcases in spring/summer. Known as mermaid’s purses, these capsules are very large, varying between 10-14cm wide and 13–24cm long! Despite their reduction in range, eggcases can commonly be found around Orkney and along the west coast of Scotland. Remember if you find any, to record them to the Great Eggcase Hunt!

Females reproduce on a 2-year cycle. The embryos take a long time to develop - it's thought to be over a year. The young emerge as a fully-formed miniature version of the adult at ~29cm in length. It’s believed Flapper Skates have a lifespan of up to 100 years.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Dipturus intermedius

  • FAMILY: Rajidae (Skates)

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 300cm total length

  • DIET: Diet consists of bottom-dwelling invertebrates (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp) and fish.

  • DISTRIBUTION: Northeast Atlantic along the coast of Norway to the northern North Sea, northwest coast of Scotland, west coast of Ireland and Celtic Sea.

  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Critically Endangered


Related Links:

► Check out more incredible sharks and rays covered in our Creature Features

► Discover more fin-tastic facts by visiting our Discover Sharks section
► Get Involved with our Great Eggcase Hunt Project