Earlier in Sarasota Fins, during “Week of the Rays,” we talked about the devil rays to introduce you to the Mobulidae family. Clearly, this post is way overdue. Today, we’ll discuss the manta rays as a whole!
The word ‘Manta’ comes from the Spanish for “cloak” or “shawl;” in the Maldivian language mantas are known as “En Madi,” which translates to “small fish eating ray.” Both sound pretty accurate in describing these animals (they kind of look like shawls and do eat small fish… but more on that later).
- Manta birostris - Atlantic manta ray
- Manta hamiltoni - Pacific manta ray
- Manta alfredi - Prince Alfred's manta ray
But, through genetic samples it was shown that Manta hamiltoni is the same species as Manta birostris, with Manta alfredi being their own species.
Oceanic mantas (M.birostris) are the bigger of the two species with a top wing span measurement (that’s wing tip to wing tip) of up to 7 m (23ft); they can weigh up to 2 tons (4,440 lbs), too. Reef mantas (M.alfredi) are smaller, but still pretty big: a wing span of 3-3.5 m(9-12 ft) and possibly even reaching 4.5 m (15 ft), with a max weight of 1.4 tons (3,000 lbs).
Manta rays are dark brown/black on top with pale white stripes, with a white underbelly.
Mantas sexually mature around 15-20 years; courtships are elaborate in that they can take a long time (days or even weeks). They are led by females, in where males have to compete by following her around; some females can have up to 30 males following her at a time! It’s like a manta train… no seriously, I think that’s what the scientific term for it is (someone correct me if I am wrong). But it’s not like a normal conga-line, my friends. She dives, twists and turns in what can only be described as a high-speed exercise to weed out the weak. At the end, the female chooses the winner to mate with.
Manta ray life spans are unknown, but researchers think that they live up to at least 50 years, maybe even possibly 100 years.
Mantas, like all other animals, do have wild predators. Sharks, orcas and false killer whales are just a few of the animals who like to prey upon these majestic (big) sea pancakes. We, however, also prey upon mantas- in a different way. They get caught in our gill nets, fishing line, and are being intentionally caught for their gill plates (desirable for Chinese medicine).
Both species of manta are considered to be ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN. Giant mantas have also recently been listed on Appendix I and II under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
Shout out to Manta Trust for all they do with these great creatures!