|Size:||Length: Up to 23 feet (7 m) across|
|Weight:||3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) or more|
|Diet:||Small fish and vegetation|
|Distribution:||Tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean|
|Young:||1 or 2 live young every other year|
|Animal Predators:||Large sharks|
|IUCN Status:||No special status|
|Lifespan:||Average lifespan is 16 to 20 years|
· The manta ray is one of the five largest species of fish in the world.
· Manta is a Spanish word meaning “blanket.”
· The manta ray is also called the Atlantic ray or the giant devil ray.
· Manta rays have blue or green eyes.
Manta rays are largest ray species in the world. They are easily recognized by their large pectoral “wings” or flaps, and the wide, rectangular mouth. Mantas have fleshy extensions on the sides of the head called cephalic lobes that resemble devil horns. These lobes are used to push plankton-bearing water into their mouths. They have numerous rows of tiny teeth which are not used for feeding but may be used in courtship, as males grab onto the females’ wings. They have a short, whip-like tail that, unlike other rays, has no sharp barbs. Manta rays have dark skin, ranging from brown to grey to black, which is rough to the touch. They have white undersides.
Atlantic manta rays live in tropical and warm coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, usually close to the water’s surface, and not deeper than 120 metres. They can be found as far north as South Carolina during warm temperatures, and are frequently spotted near Bermuda and along the coast of Mexico.
Manta rays swim near the water’s surface, and eat small fish and vegetation by guiding food into their mouth with the small fins at the side of the head. They filter water through their gills and organisms in the water are trapped by a filtering device that consists of pinkish-brown tissue that spans between the support structures of the gills.
Several males court one female during mating season, which occurs from December to April. Mating takes place in tropical waters and in rocky, reef areas from 10 to 20 metres in depth. Females give birth to one or two live young after a gestation period of thirteen months. The pups weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kg) and emerge with their wings rolled up around them. As soon as they unroll their wings, they begin to swim. They reach full adult maturity by five years, when they begin to be capable of reproducing.
Manta rays have been nicknamed “devil rays” for their cephalic lobes which resemble devil horns, and because it was historically believed that they intentionally overturned boats and hit people. However, it has become obvious that manta rays are peaceful creatures who sometimes approach divers out of curiosity, and there is no record of a manta ray harming someone intentionally (although their wings pack a powerful wallop and sometimes divers have gotten too close and gotten a blow by accident). They flap their large wings to move through the water or sometimes just drift, their wings floating on the water’s surface. Like whales, they can leap up to six feet (1.8 m) out of the water, somersaulting before crashing back down on the surface with a huge splash. It is not known for certain why they do this but it may help them remove irritating parasites and dead skin. They have been seen surrounded by wrasse fish, which help them slough off parasites and dead skin. Another mutually advantageous interaction that mantas have is with remora fish, which attach to the giant mantas and hitch rides with them while feeding on the manta’s parasites.
Manta rays are not endangered because they do not seem to be a favourite of hunters. Instead, they are very popular in the tourist industry, with companies offering tourists the chance to swim alongside these huge, harmless fish.