Manta rays. Wow, what animals. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see these animals in the wild (Melissa has not; the closest she has seen are spotted eagle rays), you know they are one of the most majestic and graceful swimmers out there.
In this blog post, we will discuss the manta rays as a whole!
The word ‘Manta’ comes from the Spanish for “cloak” or “shawl;” in the Maldivian language mantas are known as “En Madi,” which translates to “small fish eating ray.” Both sound pretty accurate in describing these animals (they kind of look like shawls and do eat small fish… but more on that later).
The Mobulidae family has 11 species of plankton-eating rays; there are two genera, Mobula and Manta. In the genus Manta, there are two species: Manta birostris (the giant oceanic manta) and Manta alfredi (that almost autocorrected to "alfredo" haha; the resident reef manta). It was previously thought that three species of giant manta existed:
Manta birostris - Atlantic manta ray
Manta hamiltoni - Pacific manta ray
Manta alfredi - Prince Alfred's manta ray
But, through genetic samples, it was shown that Manta hamiltoni is the same species as Manta birostris, with Manta alfredi being their own species. Isn't that nuts?! Each of these will get their own blog post in the coming months, so stay tuned!
Manta rays are dark brown/black on top with pale white stripes, with a white underbelly. They tend to be solitary creatures, swimming worldwide in tropical seas, living both inshore as well as open seas. They eat microscopic plankton, small fish and tiny crustaceans. They lack teeth and instead sieve their food. They funnel their food using their cephalic lobes (or horns), unfurling them and maneuvering food into their mouths.
Mantas sexually mature around 15-20 years; courtships are elaborate in that they can take a long time (days or even weeks). They are led by females, in where males have to compete by following her around; some females can have up to 30 males following her at a time! It’s like a manta train… no seriously, we think that’s what the scientific term for it is (someone correct us if we are wrong). But it’s not like a normal conga-line, my friends. She dives, twists and turns in what can only be described as a high-speed exercise to weed out the weak. At the end, the female chooses the winner to mate with.
They are ovoviviparous (also known as aplacental viviparity), meaning that fertilised eggs stay within the female until they are developed into pups. Mantas in captivity have gestation periods around a year; pups are probably born in shallow water (but no wild birth has been observed). How often females give birth are unknown, as well.
Manta ray lifespans are unknown, but researchers think that they live up to at least 50 years, maybe even possibly 100 years.
And like all other animals, they have wild predators. Sharks, orcas and false killer whales are just a few of the animals who like to prey upon these majestic sea pancakes. We, however, also prey upon mantas- in a different way. They get caught in our gill nets, fishing line, and are being intentionally caught for their gill plates (desirable for Chinese medicine).
M. birostris and M. alfredi are both considered to be Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN. They have also recently been listed on Appendix I and II under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
we would like to thank manta trust for all they do for mantas!
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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