MANTA RAY (Manta birostris)

KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
SUB-PHYLUM: Vertebrata
CLASS: Chondrichthyes
SUB-CLASS: Elasmobranchii
ORDER: Batoidea
FAMILY: Myliobatinae
SUB-FAMILY: Mobulinae
GENUS: Manta
SPECIES: Birostris


In the past there have been different species defined based on location, size, and colouration, however until tissue samples are taken from various locations and DNA analysis is done, all mantas are currently considered one species -- manta birostris.



Description

Manta rays are large sea creatures related to sharks. They have a flexible skeleton made of cartilage. These fish have large wings (manta means "blanket" or "cloak" in spanish, explaining it's name) instead of pectoral fins which allow them to "fly" gracefully through the water. The distinguishing feature of the manta from other rays is the headfins (cephalic lobes) which, when unfurled, are used to funnel food and water into the mouth. This gives the manta ray an unusual appearance, and is the reason this ray is often called the devil ray.

These fish are one of the largest species in the ocean with a wing-span that can reach over twenty feet and weighing upwards of 2300 pounds. They vary in colour from black to grey/blue to green to tones of red, with varying degrees of blotching (which are used to identify individual rays) and white on the underbelly.

Habitat

Manta rays live in tropical nearshore waters near coral and rocky reefs around the world.

What and How they Eat

Manta rays feed on zooplankton, small fish and crustaceans that are funneled into their mouths with their cephalic lobes as they swim. after they finish eating, the lobes are folded inward to streamline the body for swimming.

Reproduction

The pups are wrapped (with one pectoral fin wrapped above its body, and the other wrapped below) in a thin shell inside the mothers body and later born alive. The size of a newborn manta ray measures approximately four feet across the wings. Pups will double in size during the first year of life.

Mating behaviour features one or more males chasing a female for approximately thirty minutes. A male will bite one of her pectoral wings, which will injure her and impair her ability to swim. She is then mounted (they are belly to belly) and penetrated by one of his "claspers" (a paired sexual appendage located on the inner side of the pelvic fins).

Interesting Facts:

  • Manta rays usually swim in pairs.
  • Manta rays (despite their nickname devil ray) are very gentle and will allow divers to pet them and sometimes hitch rides on them (though this is not recommended, as it removes a protective layer of mucus from the skin which can result in sores that last for months).
  • I found references to Manta Ray harpoon hunting, however I could find no information about why they were hunted (currently they are a popular attraction for divers and are not hunted).

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