manta ray facts

13 Manta Ray Facts About The Largest Elasmobranchs

By learning about the various manta ray facts, such as the impressive Giant Oceanic Manta Ray, you can better understand these extraordinary animals and their crucial contribution to marine ecosystems.

Manta rays are one of the largest fish in the ocean. They have the largest brain-to-body ratio among all living fish species. Other facts about manta rays will provide valuable insights into their characteristics, widespread distribution, and challenges in their ever-changing habitat.

Interested to learn about other fish species in the ocean? Check out our fish facts and discover fascinating information about other incredible sea creatures in our whale facts before reading up on their watery home with our ocean facts.

13 Manta Ray Facts

manta ray whole body
Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash.

1. Manta rays are really big!

Manta rays are known for their impressive size, gentle nature, and movements. They belong to the genus Mobula within the Mobulidae family, including other giant manta species.

Manta rays are some of the largest animals in the ocean. Manta rays can weigh as much as 1,350 kg (3,000 lb) and have wingspans of up to 7 m (23 ft). Their large size makes them impressive to see swimming around in the ocean.

Additionally, they have a distinct appearance with their broad, flat bodies and triangular pectoral fins, allowing them to glide effortlessly through the water. Despite their large size, manta rays are harmless to humans, as they lack a stinging tail.

2. The giant manta rays and the reef manta rays are the only two species.

large elasmobranch side view
Photo by Wang John on Unsplash.

Currently, two species of manta rays are officially recognized: the giant manta ray and the reef manta ray.

The giant manta rays, also known as giant oceanic manta rays (Manta birostris), are the largest rays with an average wingspan of 18 to 23 feet and can reach up to 29 feet. These gentle giants have claimed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as their home, their vast silhouettes dancing in the deep.

Meanwhile, the Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi), though slightly smaller, leaves an indelible mark in the ocean currents of the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Atlantic regions. Typically, their wingspans range from 11 to 18 feet, and you can often find them close to the sea bed3.

3. They are like floating blankets in the ocean.

The Manta ray has an interesting name associated with its distinctive form. The word 'Manta' originates in Spanish and Portuguese and brings to mind an image of a large, flat creature gracefully moving through the water like a floating blanket1.

The term' manta' was given by Spanish and Portuguese sailors who encountered these creatures during their voyages. It is believed that they were fascinated by the sight of a giant manta ray resting on the seabed, almost blending in with the sand as if covered by an invisible blanket.

4. Manta rays eat tiny organisms.

One interesting fact about manta rays is that they have evolved a unique feeding strategy to consume their primary food sources, including plankton and small fish. Like whale sharks, they are filter feeders, and manta rays feed on zooplankton, segmented worms, and shrimp-like crustaceans.

Gill rakers help them filter the tiny planktonic organisms that manta rays eat. They have large cephalic lobes with paddle-like extensions on either side of their heads, located just forward of their mouths. They are sometimes called "cephalic fins" or "devil rays" due to their distinct shape.

5. They wander the world’s oceans.

manta ray mouth
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash.

We can find manta rays in different habitats around the world's oceans. They prefer areas with plenty of food, like coastal regions, coral reefs, and open ocean environments2.

Manta rays thrive in coastal areas rich in food, including plankton and small fish. They have a unique hygiene routine, visiting "cleaning stations" on the reef where cleaner fish help remove dead skin and parasites from their bodies. 

Different species of mantas have distinct habitat preferences. The reef manta ray thrives in coastal areas and prefers tropical and subtropical waters. On the contrary, the giant manta ray is a migratory species, regularly undertaking long-distance journeys or movements between different areas.

6. Manta rays mate whenever.

Manta rays have a unique reproductive behavior that differentiates them from other animals. Unlike species with specific mating seasons, their mating and reproductive activities can occur at any time throughout the year, influenced by location and individual readiness.

Female manta rays reach sexual maturity around 8 to 10 years old and give birth once every couple of years. Typically, they have one pup, occasionally two. The pregnancy lasts about 12 to 13 months, and manta rays give birth to live pups.

Manta rays are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. The female carries the embryos internally until they fully develop. The gestation period ranges from 9 to 13 months, depending on the species. During this time, the embryos receive nourishment through a yolk sac placenta.

7. A manta ray can live up to 50 years.

The lifespan of a manta ray can vary depending on factors such as species, environmental conditions, and individual characteristics. However, estimating the exact lifespan of individual manta rays is challenging due to limited long-term data and the elusive nature of these creatures.

Available information and observations suggest manta rays have relatively long lifespans compared to many other fish species. They are known to live for several decades, with some individuals potentially reaching up to 50 years or more.

8. They jump for different reasons.

large elasmobranch underwater
Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash.

Another interesting manta ray fact is that they can leap and jump. These displays involve the ray propelling itself out of the water and sometimes performing flips or twists in mid-air.

The exact reasons why manta rays jump have yet to be fully understood. Scientists believe these jumps serve various purposes, including communication, courtship, play behavior, and dislodging parasites from their bodies. They might also jump to escape predators or reorient themselves during feeding activities.

9. Manta rays are known for their intelligence.

They're intelligent creatures. Manta rays have the most significant brain-to-body weight ratio of any living fish. They use problem-solving skills to navigate their marine world, which sets them apart from other underwater creatures.

They can recognize themselves in mirrors and greet other manta rays, showcasing advanced cognition and self-awareness. Their brains are divided into different learning, problem-solving, and communication regions.

10. They are portrayed as peaceful beings.

Literature often portrays the manta rays as peaceful beings, symbolizing quiet strength and freedom. Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" is a notable example, where the manta ray represents endurance and determination.

11. They have “ventral” mouths

manta ray near coral reef
Photo by bphelan on Pixabay.

One unique feature of manta rays is their mouth position. Unlike most fish species, which have their mouths at the front of their bodies, manta rays have a distinct set-up. Their mouths are on the underside of their heads, towards the front.

The positioning of the mouth on the underside of their heads also allows manta rays to engage in a unique feeding behavior known as "barrel rolling." During this behavior, they somersault through dense plankton patches while keeping their mouths open, maximizing their feeding efficiency.

12. Manta rays attract tourists and support local economies.

Manta rays have become a major attraction for ecotourism. From tropical waters in the Maldives and Indonesia to Hawaii and Australia, observing a manta ray swim inspires awe and contributes to local economies.

Snorkelers and divers can witness the breathtaking underwater ballet of these gentle giants. Tourism centered around manta rays creates unforgettable experiences and provides crucial financial support for local communities. For example, in the Maldives alone, manta ray tourism generates an estimated $8 million annually.

13. There are two vulnerable manta ray species.

large elasmobranch front view
Photo by kevskoot on PIxabay.

The reef mantas have been classified as vulnerable species, while the giant mantas are endangered species, according to the Red List of Threatened Species. This classification highlights the urgent need to conserve manta ray populations due to threats like overfishing, habitat degradation, and other factors.

Manta rays face many threats, including overfishing. This unsustainable fishing practice directly affects their populations and the balance of marine ecosystems. The threatened species are also hunted for their gill plates. 

Habitat degradation, including the deterioration of coral reefs and feeding areas and pollution caused by marine debris and chemical contaminants, also negatively impacts manta rays and their habitats. Climate change is further exacerbated by rising temperatures, sea levels, and ocean acidification.

International agreements like CITES regulate and control the trade of manta rays and their body parts to address these challenges. It is also essential to involve local communities living near manta ray habitats, raising awareness about their conservation and engaging them in sustainable practices that reduce harm to these majestic creatures.

By implementing these measures and promoting collaboration between conservation organizations, governments, and local communities, we can work towards safeguarding manta rays and ensuring their long-term survival.

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1

Marshall, A., Bennett, M. B., & Kodja, G. (2009). Size and structure of a photographically identified population of manta rays Manta alfredi in southern Mozambique. Marine Biology, 156(6), 1111-1124.

2

Marshall, A., & Bennett, M. J. (2010). Reproductive ecology of the reef manta ray Manta alfredi in southern Mozambique. Journal of Fish Biology, 77(1), 169–190.

3

Couturier, L. I. E., Marshall, A. H., Jaine, F. R. A., Kashiwagi, T., Pierce, S., Townsend, K. A., Weeks, S. J., Bennett, M. B., & Richardson, A. J. (2012). Biology, ecology and conservation of the Mobulidae. Journal of Fish Biology, 80(5), 1075–1119.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Swanson Chan on Unsplash
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