12 amazing facts about manta rays you might not know

Discover amazing facts about these beautiful and mysterious marine animals.

Giant Manta ray at a cleaning station in the Pacific. © Luis Javier Sandoval/VW Pics/UIG/Getty.
1

How many species of manta ray are there?

There are two extant species of manta ray which differ in their appearance and their preferred habitat. The larger species is the giant oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris) and the smaller species is the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi). They are very closely related to the nine extant species of mobula ray.

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Reef manta ray in Komodo national park. © Prisma Bildagentur/UIG/Getty.
Reef manta ray in Komodo national park. © Prisma Bildagentur/UIG/Getty.
2

How big do manta ray get?

The giant manta ray can grow up to seven metres from the tip of each wing but are usually around four and a half metres.

Reef manta ray are smaller and are usually between three and three and a half metres but have been recorded up to five metres.

Divers with a giant manta ray in the Maldives. © Martin Hablützel/ullstein bild/Getty.
Divers with a giant manta ray in the Maldives. © Martin Hablützel/ullstein bild/Getty.
3

How long to manta rays live for?

They are believed to live for at least 50 years and take up to ten years to reach sexual maturity.

Giant Manta ray at a cleaning station in the Pacific. © Luis Javier Sandoval/VW Pics/UIG/Getty.
Giant Manta ray at a cleaning station in the Pacific. © Luis Javier Sandoval/VW Pics/UIG/Getty.
4

What do you call a group of manta ray?

Manta rays are sometimes seen on mass, for example when feeding, they are then known as a squadron of manta ray.

A squadron of giant manta rays in the Maldives. © Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Images/Getty.
A squadron of giant manta rays in the Maldives. © Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Images/Getty.
5

Where do manta ray live?

Reef manta ray can be found in coastal areas in tropical and subtropical waters mostly in the Indo-Pacific.

The giant manta ray, on the other hand, is a circumglobal species which can be found in waters right around the equator spending the majority of its time far from land. 

Reef manta ray in the Maldives. © Song Helming/Getty.
Reef manta ray in the Maldives. © Song Helming/Getty.
6

What do manta ray eat?

Both species have been observed filter feeding on large quantities of zooplankton however, research suggests that the giant manta ray also hunts for fish and this may be their prominent food source. 

Giant manta ray filter feeding. © Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media/Getty.
Giant manta ray filter feeding. © Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media/Getty.
7

How do you tell the difference between giant manta and reef manta rays?

The main difference between the two species is the size of adults however if the ray is young this can bring confusion. The only way to be sure is by comparing colour pattern. Both have dark dorsal sides but the white lines on them make different shapes, the pattern on reef manta ray produces a Y shape whereas the giant manta ray makes a T.

Reef manta ray showing off its dorsal patterning. © Ariel Fuchs/Gamma-Rapho/Getty.
Reef manta ray showing off its dorsal patterning. © Ariel Fuchs/Gamma-Rapho/Getty.
8

How deep do manta ray swim?

The giant oceanic manta ray has been spotted at depths of 560m but we don’t know everything about them so it may be deeper. 

Giant Manta ray at a cleaning station in the Pacific. © Luis Javier Sandoval/VW Pics/UIG/Getty.
Giant Manta ray at a cleaning station in the Pacific. © Luis Javier Sandoval/VW Pics/UIG/Getty.
9

How fast do manta ray swim?

Both manta ray species have escape speeds of up to 24km per hour.

Giant manta ray gliding across a reef in the Maldives. © Martin Hablützel/ullstein bild/ Getty.
Giant manta ray gliding across a reef in the Maldives. © Martin Hablützel/ullstein bild/ Getty.
10

How many babies do manta ray have?

Manta rays give birth to a single pup every two to five years. Their gestation period is believed to be around a year long. 

Giant manta ray near the Maldives. © Didier Brandelet/Gamma-Rapho/Getty.
Giant manta ray near the Maldives. © Didier Brandelet/Gamma-Rapho/Getty.
11

Do manta rays have any predators?

Due to their large size and speed, they have very few natural predators, these include large sharks and killer whales.

Giant Manta Ray from beneath, Mexico. © Ken Kiefer/Getty.
Giant Manta Ray from beneath, Mexico. © Ken Kiefer/Getty.
12

Why do manta rays jump?

The short answer is, we don’t know!

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Although there are many theories as to why they jump out of the water, an act known as breaching, scientists haven’t yet worked out why they do it.