12 Fascinating Facts Most People Don't Know About Majestic Manta Rays

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 The Largest Brain Of All Fish

    Manta Rays Have The Largest Brain Of All Fish
    Photo: Johnmartindavies / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    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.

  • They Are The First Fish To Pass The Mirror Test

    They Are The First Fish To Pass The Mirror Test
    Photo: Jaine FRA, Couturier LIE, Weeks SJ, Townsend KA, Bennett MB, et al. (2012) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

    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 Massive

    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. 

  • Males Form 'Mating Trains' As They Compete For Female Attention

    Males Form 'Mating Trains' As They Compete For Female Attention
    Video: YouTube

    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.

  • Manta Rays Have To Keep Swimming In Order To Breath

    Like many species of shark, manta rays need to be in constant motion in able to breath properly. This is unfortunate for them as they are unable to stop to sleep or rest. They cannot respire, so the only way for them to get oxygen is to have a steady stream of oxygenated water passing through their gills. Manta rays accidentally caught in human fishing nets are at extreme risk of death because they can get stuck and become immobilized.

  • There Are Actually Two Separate Species Of Manta Rays

    The term "manta" actually describes a genus of ray species. There are only two extant species of the manta genus, the larger Manta birostris and the somewhat smaller Manta alfredi. While the two species are very similar, there are some key differences that define the two. Their closest relatives are mobula rays, a species of stingray that also feeds on plankton.