Manta rays are the world’s biggest rays. Mantas are divided into at least two species. The reef manta is Manta alfredi, and the gigantic oceanic manta is Manta birostris. Their look is similar, and their ranges overlap, but the huge manta prefers the wide ocean, whilst the reef manta prefers shallower coastal areas.
The term “manta” means “mantle or cloak,” which accurately describes the animal’s shape. Manta rays have triangular pectoral fins, large heads, and ventral gill openings. The moniker “devil ray” comes from their horn-shaped cephalic fins. Both ray species have short, square teeth. The shape of their skin denticles, color patterns, and tooth patterns change between species.
The majority of mantas are black or dark-colored on top, with distinct “shoulders” and light undersides. Dark markings on the ventral surface are possible. There are other all-black creatures. M. birostris possesses a spine near its dorsal fin, however, it does not sting. M. birostris may grow to be 7 m (23 ft) wide, whereas M. alfredi can grow to be 5.5 m (18 ft) wide.
A huge manta may weigh as much as 1350 kg (2980 lb). Manta rays must swim forward in order for oxygenated water to flow over their gills. The fish swim underwater by waving their pectoral fins and “flying.” Despite their size, manta rays regularly penetrate the air. The fish are said to be very clever since they have one of the greatest brain-to-body mass ratios.
Manta rays may be found in tropical and subtropical waters all around the world. They have been spotted as far north as North Carolina (31N) in the United States and as far south as New Zealand (36S), yet they only wander into temperate waters when the water temperature is at least 20 degrees Celsius (68 F).
Both species are pelagic, meaning they live mostly in the open ocean. From spring through fall, they are plentiful in coastal seas. They may move up to 1000 km (620 mi) and live at depths ranging from sea level to 1000 m. (3300 ft). Manta rays swim near the surface throughout the day. At night, they go deeper.
Manta rays are filter feeders that feed on zooplankton like krill, shrimp, and crab larvae. Mantas hunt using both sight and scent. A manta herds its meal by swimming around it in circles, allowing the current to gather the plankton. The ray then travels through the ball of food with its mouth wide open.
Particles are channeled into the mouth by the cephalic fins and collected by the gill arches. Mating happens at various times of the year and is dependent on the geographic location of the manta. Courtship appears to include fish swimming in “trains,” which tend to occur often during full moons.
The male usually always grabs the female’s left pectoral fin during mating. He then rotates her belly to belly and puts a clasper into her cloaca. Gestation is thought to last 12 to 13 months. Inside the female, the egg casings hatch. One to two puppies will eventually emerge. Females give birth every two years on average.
Males mature at a younger and smaller age than females. Females often reach maturity between the ages of 8 and 10 years. Mantas may survive in the wild for up to 50 years. Mantas are preyed upon by killer whales and huge sharks. Cookie cutter sharks may inflict potentially deadly damage by taking round “cookie-shaped” bites from their victim.
Rays are vulnerable to a wide range of parasites. They visit reef cleaning stations on a regular basis to treat wounds and remove ectoparasites. The capacity of each fish to return to cleaning stations is thought to be proof that manta rays create mental maps of their environment. Manta rays have either been worshiped or dreaded throughout history. It wasn’t until 1978 that divers showed that creatures could be polite and associate with humans.
Today, ecotourism has been instrumental in saving manta rays. Manta fishing for flesh, skin, or gill rakers for Chinese traditional medicine can make hundreds of dollars. However, each ray has the potential to generate $1 million in tourism revenue during its lifespan. The big fish is most likely to be seen by scuba divers, however, tourism in the Bahamas, Hawaii, Indonesia, Australia, Spain, and other nations allows anybody to see them.
While the rays are not aggressive, it is important to avoid touching them since disturbing their mucous coating renders them vulnerable to ha.rm and infection.