The 7 Extraordinary Senses of Manta Rays

Sep 11, 2023 | About Manta Rays

A manta ray is a highly sensitive animal. The senses of manta rays help them navigate and interact with their environment. But those senses are not the same exact senses that humans have and use every day… find a bit more about each of the manta ray’s “superhuman” senses in this article!

A Manta Ray’s Sight

Manta rays have well-developed eyes positioned on the sides of their heads. This gives them an optimal field of vision; however, they do have two “blind spots:” one in front of them and the other directly behind them.

Scientists are not sure how well manta rays can see; they seem to use their eyes to perceive shapes and navigate their surroundings both in clear water and when the ocean is murky or dark. It is apparent that they can see divers during the daylight hours as they often swim away from them when approached. At night, they will allow divers and snorkelers to be within a few feet of them while they are preoccupied with feeding.

Manta rays also can physically pull back their eyes into their sockets to protect them.

Jolene Ray breaching the surface of the water - and showing off her eye

Jolene Ray breaching the surface of the water – and showing off her eye

Sense of Touch

Like human skin, manta rays are sensitive to touch over their entire body.

They possess numerous tactile receptors known as dermal denticles, which are similar to tiny teeth and cover their bodies. These denticles allow them to sense touch and changes in water pressure.

Over the years, I have been hit or slapped around by mantas. Some body parts feel slimy, and others feel like fine sandpaper.

Their skin is also covered with a slime coating, which serves as a barrier to bacteria, aids in injury healing, and reduces friction as they swim through the water.

Why you should never ever touch a manta ray

The Hearing of a Manta Ray

Manta rays possess an acute sense of hearing, allowing them to detect sound waves in the water.

Unlike humans, who rely on external ears for hearing, the inner ear of a manta ray is encased in its skull. Mantas have small holes called spiracles behind their eyes, channeling water into their inner ear structures. This enables them to pick up vibrations from various sources.

The sacculus inside the inner ear has small hair-like nerve cells; when sound vibrations reach the sacculus, manta rays can tell which direction the sound is coming from. How cool is that?

Electro Reception

Most living organisms (from plankton to human beings) generate a weak bioelectric field using their nerves and muscles.

Manta rays have specialized organs in their skin called “Ampullae of Lorenzini”; these are small mucus-filled pores located around their head and on their underside.

Since water is a great conductor of electricity, these electroreceptive cells give mantas (and other types of fish) the ability to sense electrical fields that other living organisms emit.

Related fish (like sharks) will use electro-reception to locate prey, and it appears that manta rays use this particular sense to locate their main food source, plankton.

Can Manta Rays Smell? (Olfactory Sense)

Manta rays have two small, nearly invisible nostrils beneath their mouths. These nostrils are aligned with the water flow, so water flows in one side and out the other.

They cannot stop swimming and are in constant forward motion. This creates a pressure difference that forces chemicals over the sensory folds.

Manta rays can detect even the faintest scent of their food source!

How about their Sense of Taste?

Manta rays have a distinct mouth structure that sets them apart from other marine creatures when tasting food. Their mouths are located at the front of their bodies, allowing them to efficiently filter-feed on plankton as they easily swim through the water.

While mantas don’t have a tongue with taste buds, they can taste their food.

Near the back of their oral cavity, manta rays have very small protrusions that detect minute chemical concentrations. This gives them the ability to sense and consume their natural food source and to detect species-emitting chemicals from potential mates.

If something they cannot digest or simply don’t want is caught in their mouth (like a fish, jellyfish, plastic, etc), they can reverse the pressure and spit it out. Read more about that in the post below!

How Do Manta Rays Poop, Vomit and Other Gross Stuff?

Senses that Need More Research: Magneto Reception

Some theories pose that manta rays (and other marine creatures) possess a sense of magnetoreception. This sense would allow them to detect the Earth’s magnetic field and use it for navigation during long-distance migrations.

This theory is still very hypothetical and will need much more investigating; read more here about research done on yellow stingrays (a close relative of the manta rays).

By combining all these different senses to navigate the ocean, mantas can

  • Avoid obstacles such as rocks or coral reefs
  • Effectively find food
  • Interact with other marine life

All while swimming through complex underwater environments, from the shallow coastal waters where reef mantas roam – to the deep open oceans that host giant oceanic manta rays.

Learn more about manta rays

Download our free PDF ebook with lots of fascinating facts and figures about the amazing gentle giants of the seas!

Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ignacio Alvarez Jr.

    Martina.
    Wonderful information.
    Your commitment and dedication is admirable.
    Thank you.
    Ignacio Jr.
    September 2023 customer and learning about Manta Rays live style.

    Reply
    • Martina Wing

      Mahalo Nui Loa! 🌺

      Reply

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