The manta ray is one of the most mesmerizing and elegant creatures in the sea. It captures the imagination of divers around the world who will travel thousands of miles for a chance to swim with these majestic titans. Even though they are huge, manta rays pose no threat to humans and have a reputation for being gentle giants. In fact, manta rays probably have more reasons to be afraid of us than the other way around.
Beautiful manta rays can be found in all of the world's oceans, but they can be difficult to track down. The ocean is huge, and even looking for a giant manta ray can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. They are way too big to fit in most aquariums, so it can be nearly impossible to get up close and see one for yourself. For those of us who can't strike out onto the open sea and go searching for a manta ray in the wild, these fascinating manta ray facts will open a window into the world of these mysterious animals.
Manta rays have a reputation for being curious. They have an interest in observing divers and tend to have their own unique personalities. Mantas are one of the most intelligent fish in the sea, and that's likely because of their massive brains. They have the largest brains of all fish, packed full of glial cells that are believed to be tied to intelligence. They have more glial cells than house cats, meaning they may be smarter than some of our pets. Mantas who get tangled in fishing nets have been observed coming up to divers for help, a further sign of their incredible intellect.
Manta rays are one of the most intelligent animals in the ocean, and a study has shown that they may be as self-aware as dolphins, primates, and crows. Two manta rays were exposed to a mirror and their reactions were documented. Neither treated the mirror like another manta, and both performed behaviors that were completely novel.
One manta watched itself as it blew bubbles in the mirror, and both took a sharp interest in their reflections and contorted their bodies into unusual positions. Some believe this is evidence that they knew what they were seeing, but not everyone is convinced. At least one researcher wants to see the results of neural imaging on a manta ray as it interacts with its reflection.
Mantas are the largest species of ray in the world, dwarfing most sting rays. The largest mantas have an incredible wingspan of 25 feet and can weigh well over 5,000 pounds. They grow very slowly overtime, not reaching sexual maturity until they reach about 10 years of age. Their slow growth rate may explain how they can reach such monstrous proportions.
Possibly one of the most bizarre mating behaviors in the animal kingdom, manta "mating trains" are as interesting as they are humorous. When a female manta is ready to mate, she will often be mobbed by groups of males numbering 30 or more individuals. These males follow her every move, part of an elaborate mating ritual where the female tests the persistence and skill of her suitors. She swims exceptionally fast, and the males that can't keep up are left in the dust.
The remaining males will often duke it out to be in the front of the train. The female will usually mate with the most persistent male who has managed to fight his way up to first place spot. It's ultimately up to the female to pick which mate she believes will be the most fit.