Manta rays [family: Mobulidae] are large, flat-bodied fish related to sharks. Manta rays live in tropical and temperate waters around the world. They are common in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and in the Red Sea. “Manta” means “blanket” in Spanish. From a distance, manta rays look like huge dark blankets rolling in the sea. This was the impression a manta ray made on 16th-century Spanish explorers when they first saw one and named it. Large pectoral fins give manta rays their characteristic kite shape. From the tip of one fin to the other, a manta ray can stretch seven meters wide. It is one of the largest known fish. Despite their size, manta rays move smoothly and gracefully in the water. They owe their elegant movements to skeletons that are not as stiff and heavy as the bone skeletons supporting most other fish. Manta rays generally hug the coast and do not dive deep. They feed on small fish and microorganisms like plankton. Manta rays do not hunt. They swim very slowly through plankton, sweeping food into their mouths with fins at the front of their heads. Manta rays occasionally interrupt their lazy movements with spectacular leaps out of the water. Manta rays get rid of dead skin and parasites when they leap. During mating season, between December and April, numerous males gather around a female. The female slows down and the first male bites her and positions himself beneath her. Fertilization lasts two minutes. The other males then mate with the female in turn. Female manta rays do not lay eggs. They keep them inside their bodies until the embryos are fully developed. Gestation lasts about 13 months. Newborn manta rays are about a meter wide and weigh about 10 kilos. Getting close to a manta ray can be dangerous. Their powerful bodies can easily overturn small boats. However, they are not aggressive and do not attack people. Manta rays are also called “devil fish.”
In ancient times, people believed manta rays enveloped anchors and dragged ships to the bottom of the sea.