Manta Rays are majestic animals that inspire awe and a deep sense of connection in anyone who meets them.
But did you know they can also be pretty quirky at times?
Here are ten fun facts about the gentle giants of the sea!
Fun Fact #1: Manta Rays Poop and Vomit. All. The. Time.
What goes in, must come out; since manta rays technically don’t stop swimming (ever) while eating a bunch, they constantly produce their own food waste.
No worries, their droppings get recycled continuously, and manta ray vomit is a treat for surrounding fish!
Fun Fact #2: Manta Rays Can Fly
Unlike the Flying Dutchman (the legendary ghost ship), the flying manta ray is not a myth: manta rays are known to jump out of the water.
This phenomenon is called breaching, and seeing a manta ray fly out of the water in real life is as impressive as it sounds!
The question of why manta rays breach is one of the many mysteries we don’t yet have an answer for; different scientists and manta ray experts have various explanations, and we’re not close to finding the one single answer.
→ Watch the videos of manta rays breaching + read why experts think they do it here
Fun Fact #3: Manta Rays are Bigger than Your Average Car
The largest manta ray ever recorded (that we know of) was 22 feet (7 meters) wide; reef mantas are slightly smaller, measuring 12-14 feet (3-5 meters) on average.
→ Get more facts and figures about manta rays – download the free ebook here
Fun Fact #4: Manta Rays Eat 12 Times Their Body Weight
I calculated how much plankton mantas consume a couple of years ago, resulting in 19,200,000 pieces of plankton every week for an average adult manta ray. Mind-boggling!
Manta rays eat about 12% of their body weight worth of plankton every single week. That’s almost as much as baleen whales!
Until 2021, we even thought manta rays consumed more than whales – but new studies proved that baleen whales feed much more than we thought.
→ Read more about what manta rays eat (and check my calculations!) on this page
→ Not sure it’s a good thing that the giants of the sea eat this much? This article highlights the importance of their poop for the ecosystem!
Fun Fact #5: Manta Rays are Fish, not Mammals
Manta rays give birth to live pups, so they must be mammals like whales and dolphins, right?
Manta rays are ovoviviparous. This means they are fish that produce eggs… which hatch inside their body.
The pup is carried for over a year before giving birth. Not quite as long as an elephant, but wait until you hear how their babies come out…
Fun Fact #6: Manta Rays are Born as Burrito Wraps
On that same note… while manta rays give live birth, those pups are huge – and there’s no room for them to flap their wings inside the mother’s body.
That’s why a manta ray baby is born inside their mother, all swathed up, looking like a burrito wrap.
When expelled from the mother’s womb, the pup unfolds the pectoral fins and is a “ready-to-go” miniature manta. Fetal folds are very visible; those birth wrinkles stretch out and fade while growing up.
→ See the amazing pictures of a manta ray pup being born here
→ Follow the evolution of Kamala Ray from manta ray pup to toddler on this page
Fun Fact #7: Manta Rays (Accidentally) Travel with Sea Urchins
When we’re on a manta ray moonlight swim, we regularly encounter mantas with spines from the black spiny sea urchins sticking out of their body – piercing their cephalic fins or ventral side.
This most likely happened when the manta got too close to the reef… it almost seems that mantas are clumsy.
The sharp spines damage the manta rays’ protective coating – and at the same time, that slimy shielding layer can help them repair the damage.
Unfortunately, simple human touch can also damage this protective coating, so it’s particularly important never to pet or touch a manta ray!
Fun Fact #8: Manta Rays can Easily Swallow a Small Child (but they won’t)
We already established that manta rays eat a ridiculously large amount of plankton by swimming with their mouths open.
When you look into a manta ray’s big, cavernous mouth, it’s easy to imagine them swallowing a child! However, manta rays are intelligent, and they very well know little humans are not a suitable food source.
On top of that, they are gentle and peace-loving animals that don’t even have a proper defense mechanism against predators.
Fun Fact #9: Manta Rays have Big Brains
Manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of all fish. The size of the brain is comparable to a human fist.
They are considered to be the most intelligent ocean animals.
Fun Fact #10: All Manta Rays are Giants, but Not All Manta Rays are Giant Manta Rays
Manta rays are never small. They may only measure 2-3 feet when born, but mature manta rays have a wingspan of over 10 feet (3 meters).
However, many articles on the internet are slightly mistaken about the species of manta rays.
The “giant” manta ray (Mobula birostris, also called pelagic manta or oceanic manta ray) is the larger species of manta. However, sightings are rare; it lives deep in the ocean and only gets spotted occasionally.
So when you go on a reef snorkeling or scuba diving adventure with manta rays, this will not be with giant manta rays; you will be encountering their smaller (but not less impressive) cousin, the reef manta ray (Mobula alfredi).