The manta ray, Manta birostris, is a marine creature found in temperate, subtropical and tropical waters around the world. Its unusual shape makes it easily identifiable, with a flat, shovel-shaped body with curling edges, a long tail and no discernible, separate head. The anatomy of the manta ray offers specialized features that help it to survive in its watery habitat.
The manta rays, along with devil rays, have the largest brain of any fish relative to its body. This gives them the ability to conduct highly socialized behavior. It is thought that they use sound to communicate to each other, though this is not well understood at present. Though generally a solitary animal, mantas sometimes congregate in groups of up to 30 individuals.
The skin of the manta ray is smooth, with a rubbery appearance. It has
Mantas may come in a variety of colors including black, dark brown, grayish-blue or mottled in patches. These color variations can help to identify individuals. The underside of the body is white. A mucus coating covers the skin which helps them to fight off infection. Denticles, small, tooth-like structures, are found along the surface of the skin similar to those found on sharks.
The manta ray possesses enlarge pectoral fins that give the animal its “wings.” These wings allow the animal to glide swiftly through the water to evade predators. The wings are 2.2 to 2.3 times wider than they are long, sometimes as wide as 20 feet.
The mouth of the manta is located at the front of the body. Mantas have organs called cephalic lobes outside the mouth openingthat help to guide plankton and fish larva into the mouth of the creature to allow it to feed.
The eyes of the manta ray are located on the ventral side of the body, just in front of the cephalic lobe. This location gives them a good field of vision on either side of their bodies, but almost no vision directly in front and behind them. They appear to see better in daylight than in darkness, given their inclination to allow divers to approach when in the dark.
Manta gills carry oxygen to their blood to keep their cells alive. Water enters the mouth and is passed over the gills to extract the oxygen. The internal gills of the creature can be seen when the mouth is open.
Mantas have teeth only on the lower jaw, with about 18 teeth at the center, decreasing to 12 or 14 at the corners of the mouth. The teeth have a pebble-like appearance. Manta teeth are not used for feeding and appear to be a vestige leftover from their ancestors. Mantas will not bite humans, nor do they have stingers.
Mantas use internal fertilization of the female’s eggs. The males have a pair of claspers on the inner side of their pelvic fins. The manta uses these claspers to hold onto the female while depositing sperm into a vent in her body. The young then develop inside the female manta. The pups are born live in litters of 1 or 2 pups. The pups emerge rolled into a ball shape, which gradually relaxes into the standard manta appearance.
The tail of the manta ray is long, thin and flattened. It seems out of proportion to the body, but serves as a
The manta ray is a curious creature perfectly adapted to survive in the near-shore waters where it is found. The largest of the rays, it is harmless to man.