Manta ray

  Update of post from January 4, 2014


Manta rays are large, weird-looking fish living in tropical and temperate waters in oceans throughout the world. There are a few things that set these rays apart from other species of rays. First of all, they are much larger, but we will talk more about that later. Secondly, they have large, wing-like pectoral fins that are pointier at the ends than the fins on other rays. They also have two weird extensions on the front of their body. These are called cephalic lobes, and they are used for feeding.

The eyes of this bizarre creature are located on the side of its head, right behind the cephalic lobes. You can see the left eye of the manta ray above, but it just looks like a large black dot. Whereas most fish have their gills on the side of their body, the manta ray has its gills on its underside. The left set of gills can be seen in the picture above as well.

As coloring goes, these fish are usually white or cream on their underside and dark gray or black on top. They sometimes have lighter accents on top and darker splotches on the bottom. The splotches on the bottom are sometimes used to tell individual rays apart! The picture below shows what the top side of these fish sometimes looks like.

There are actually two species of manta rays: the reef manta ray and the giant manta ray. There are two main differences between these species. The giant manta ray, true to its name, is larger, and the reef manta ray, true to its name, lives more in reefs instead of the open ocean.


Manta rays are huge. Males, which are smaller than females, are normally between 17 and 20 feet (5.2-6.1 m) across! Females can be between 18 and 22 feet (5.5-6.8 m) from wingtip to wingtip! The largest manta ray ever recorded was a whopping 30 feet (9.1 m) across!

These creatures weigh a ton. Literally. Actually, they can literally weigh a lot more than a ton. The largest measured manta ray was about 2.2 tons (2 tonnes), or 4,400 pounds! This is heavier than most cars, and over 1.5 times as heavy as some cars!

These measurements are for the giant manta ray. The reef manta rays can be up to 18 feet (5.5 m) wide and weigh 1.5 tons (1.4 tonnes). Although this is smaller than the giant manta ray, it is still extremely large.

Diet and feeding

Manta rays, like whale sharks, are gentle aquatic giants. Both of these creatures, despite their large size, eat mainly plankton. They use their cephalic lobes to funnel water into their mouth. The manta ray then strains the water through its sponge-like gill rakers, trapping the plankton in its mouth.

They will sometimes swim horizontally while feeding, but more frequently they will swim in vertical summersaults. It is though that this helps trap their prey and keep it in the area. Not all of the manta ray’s diet is made up of plankton. They will sometimes eat small fish or crustaceans.

Habitat and range

Manta rays live mostly in tropical waters, but they can inhabit temperate waters as well. The map below shows this animal’s large range.  They can range as far south as South Africa and New Zealand, and they live as far north as New Jersey, Spain, and Japan.

Manta rays are typically pelagic fish, meaning they spend most of their time in the open ocean. Unlike most other rays, these animals are found more toward the surface. They can, however, dive as deep as 400 feet (122 m). Sometimes these fish will visit reefs where food is more plentiful and they can be cleaned by smaller fish. As I mentioned earlier, the reef manta ray spends most of its time in reefs and shallower water.

Status and threats

The IUCN has classified both species of manta rays as Vulnerable. Manta rays are relatively defenseless, so despite their large size, they still have a few natural predators. These are mostly large sharks, such as great white sharks, and killer whales.

Humans also hunt manta rays. In the past, they have been harvested for their liver oil and their skin. Right now, the main reason these fish are hunted is because their gill rakers are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They are also sometimes accidentally caught when fishing for sharks or other fish.

Reproduction, eggs, and young

Manta ray mating season runs from early December to late April. Since it occurs at this time of year, it normally takes place in tropical water. Large groups of males will follow a female around for about 20 to 30 minutes. After this time, the first male in line swims up to the female and they mate. Once finished, the male will swim away, and the second male in line will mate with the female. The female usually swims away from the rest of the males after this.

After mating, the eggs develop inside the female for up to 13 months! After this time, one or two live young are born. Their large, wing-like pectoral fins are wrapped around them a first, but they soon unfurl, and the young swim free. The juvenile manta rays are rather large, and they can have a wingspan of up to 5 feet (1.5 m)!

Within one year, they can double in size! At five years, the manta rays are presumably full grown, as it is at this time that they start to mate. These fish are known to live for at least 20 years, and some estimates say they can live up to 40 years!

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!


Photo credits:

  • Manta ray –  Bartosz Cieślak
  • Manta ray top – John Hanson
  • Manta ray front – Arturo de Frias Marques
  • Manta ray range – maplab
  • Mystery animal – Pradeep Kankanalu
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