Manta rays are graceful giants living in the Ocean. Because of their cephalic fins resemble horns, these gentle creatures were once tagged with the unflattering name ‘’devilfish’’.
Photo by asands from London, UK (Manta at Fushivaru Thila) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Manta rays belong to the taxonomic family Mobulidae. Within this family there are two genera, Mobula and Manta and more specifically within the genus manta there are two species, Manta birostris (the giant oceanic manta) and Manta alfredi (the resident reef manta).
Despite the fact that Manta rays are of huge fascination to divers and snorkelers around the world, it has only been in the last 10 years (with a few exceptions) that dedicated research into the complexities of these animal’s lives has begun. Here are few things discovered:
1. Are close relative of all sharks and rays, although sharks (as well as orcas) are their main predators.
2. Can reach impressive dimensions.
Manta birostris is generally larger than its smaller reef resident relatives. While Manta alfredi can grow to a possible maximum of 4.5 metres (15ft), Manta birostris might exceed 7 metres (23 ft) in width and weigh up to 2 tonnes (4,440lbs)!
3. Have the largest brain to body ratio of all fish.
Manta rays’ brains are disproportionately large when compared to their body size. The weight of their brains is more comparable to that of a similar sized mammals.
4. While they have many rows of sharp teeth, they aren’t used for eating.
The primary food source for the Manta rays is plankton which are various organisms in the water. to catch them they use a filtering system.
5. Don’t have a skeleton that is made from bone.
Like all elasmobranchs have, their skeleton is comprised of flexible, fibrous and light cartilage as opposed to the dense bony skeletons of the vast majority of all other fish and terrestrial vertebrates.
6. Can lose their protective mucus membrane if they are touched by humans.
The mucus has an important role to protect them from bacteria and microorganisms.
7. Research would indicate that manta rays probably live to at least 50 and possibly up to 100 years
However, there is a need for at least another 20 years of research to verify if this hypothesis is correct. The first reef manta was photographed by divers in 1989. Her name is Ping-Pong (M12) and is a Maldivian reef manta who is still seen now at the same site almost every year. When she was photographed she was already fully grown and sexually mature. Since it’s thought that mantas are 15-20 years old when they reach sexual maturity, Ping-Pong is supposed to be today at least 40 years old.