Manta Ray / Devil Ray / Eagle Ray (Manta birostris)
Order: Myliobatiformes, Family: Mobulidae
The manta ray is flat and wide, with fleshy enlarged pectoral fins that resemble wings.
Rough and scaly, the manta has a short, whip-like tail, and gills on the underside of its body.
Two cephalic lobes extend from the front of the manta ray's head.
Broad and rectangular, its mouth contains small teeth exclusively in the lower jaw.
The manta ray varies in color from black to gray-blue along its back. It has a white underside with gray blotches.
Manta rays measure up to 29 feet long and 22 feet wide; they can weigh 3,00 pounds.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
- The manta ray is flat and wide, with fleshy enlarged pectoral fins that resemble wings.
- Rough and scaly, the manta has a short, whip-like tail, and gills on the underside of its body.
- Two cephalic lobes extend from the front of the manta ray's head.
- Broad and rectangular, its mouth contains small teeth exclusively in the lower jaw.
- The manta ray varies in color from black to gray-blue along its back. It has a white underside with gray blotches.
- Manta rays measure up to 29 feet long and 22 feet wide; they can weigh 3,00 pounds.
- The manta ray inhabits tropical and warm temperate coastal regions, including the coast of southern Africa, from California to northern Peru, from North Carolina to southern Brazil, and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Manta rays are found in all areas of the ocean, but spend most of their time close to shore, where food is most abundant.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
- Filter feeders, manta rays primarily eat plankton, but also feed on small fish and tiny crustaceans.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
- Powerful creatures, manta rays are nonetheless harmless and nonaggressive. They are nonterritorial and solitary.
- The manta ray is a graceful swimmer; it swims at or near the surface, and propels itself by flapping its pectoral fins up and down. Manta rays are also very acrobatic, and often leap and somersault out of the water.
- Manta rays swim slowly in vertical loops, which keeps prey within the area while feeding.
- While swimming, the manta ray funnels food into its mouth with its cephalic lobes; it does not need its teeth to feed.
- Male and female manta rays are very similar, showing little dimorphism.
- Both sexes reach sexual maturity at 5 years of age; mating takes place from early December to late April around rocky reef areas. During this time, mantas gather in large numbers, with several males courting a single female.
- After 13 months of gestation, the female gives birth to one or two pups. Young measure about 45 inches wide, and weigh roughly 20 pounds. They're born wrapped up in their pectoral fins, but soon become free swimmers and self-sufficient.
- Pups grow rapidly, virtually doubling their body width in the first year of life.
- Manta rays live for 18 to 20 years.
VI. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:
- The manta ray's entire skeleton is made of cartilage, giving it a wide range of motion.
- Manta rays leap out of water to heights of up to 7 feet, then smack against the surface to remove parasites and dead skin.
VII. POPULATION STATUS:
- The manta ray has a symbiotic relationship with wrasse fish, which swim around the ray eating its parasites and dead skin. A similar arrangement exists between manta rays and remora fish, which attach themselves to the manta ray, hitching a ride while feeding on parasites and plankton.
- Manta ray "encounters" help promote eco-tourism in the manta's range.
VIII. MORE MANTA RAY FACTS:
- Due to its formidable size, the manta ray has no natural predators, although it is occasionally attacked by large sharks.
- The species is not listed as endangered.
- The name "devil ray" comes from the manta ray's extended fins, which many people think resemble devil's horns.
- Closely related to the shark, the manta ray is the largest of all the rays.
- The manta ray has no stinging spine and is normally indifferent to divers. However, sometimes it will approach and even solicit attention from divers, apparently enjoying the stimulation provided by human contact and bubbles from scuba exhaust.
- One common myth states that mantas capsize boats by leaping out of the water and crashing down on them. Another myth claims that mantas can drown swimmers by wrapping around them. Both of course are untrue.