American Oceans

What’s the Difference Between a Devil Ray and a Manta Ray?

Devil rays and manta rays are both members of the Mobulidae family, but they have distinct differences in their physical appearance, habitat, and feeding habits.

a devil ray leaping out of the water

Devil rays are generally smaller in size than manta rays, and they have a unique diamond-shaped body with a pointed snout. In contrast, manta rays have a triangular-shaped body with a wide head and a rounded snout.

Despite their differences, devil rays and manta rays share many similarities in their life cycle and reproduction.

Both species are ovoviviparous, meaning that they give birth to live young after the eggs have hatched inside the mother.

They also have a slow rate of reproduction, with females typically giving birth to only one or two pups every few years.

Key Takeaways

  • Devil rays and manta rays have distinct physical differences, habitat, and feeding habits.
  • Devil rays are generally smaller and have a diamond-shaped body, while manta rays have a triangular-shaped body with a wide head.
  • Both species are ovoviviparous and have a slow rate of reproduction.

Understanding Devil Rays and Manta Rays

a big manta ray swimming int he ocean

Devil rays and manta rays are two distinct groups of cartilaginous fishes that belong to the same family, Mobulidae.

They are often confused with each other due to their similar body shape and size. However, there are several differences between these two groups that set them apart.

Taxonomy

The taxonomy of manta and devil rays has been a subject of debate for many years. The genus Manta comprises two recognized species, Manta birostris and Manta alfredi, while the genus Mobula comprises nine recognized species, including Mobula mobular, Mobula japanica, and Mobula tarapacana.

However, recent studies have suggested that there may be more species within these genera that have not yet been recognized.

Species

Manta and devil rays have distinct physical characteristics that can help differentiate between them. Manta rays have a diamond-shaped body with a broad head and wide pectoral fins that are fused to their head.

They also have a long, whip-like tail, and two horn-like projections on their head. In contrast, devil rays have a more triangular-shaped body with a pointed head and separate pectoral fins. They also have a shorter tail and lack the horn-like projections on their head.

Another key difference between manta and devil rays is their habitat. Manta rays are typically found in warm, tropical waters around the world, while devil rays are found in both tropical and temperate waters.

Manta rays are also known for their large size, with some individuals reaching up to 23 feet in wingspan, while the largest devil rays reach up to 17 feet in wingspan.

In terms of behavior, both manta and devil rays are filter feeders, but they differ in their feeding strategies. Manta rays are known to feed near the surface of the water, where they filter plankton and small fish from the water column.

Devil rays, on the other hand, are known to feed at deeper depths, where they filter larger prey such as squid and krill.

Physical Differences

a devil ray in the water

Devil rays and manta rays belong to the same family, but they have some physical differences that set them apart.

This section will explore the physical differences between devil rays and manta rays, including their size and weight, appearance, and distinct characteristics.

Size and Weight

Manta rays are generally larger than devil rays. The average wingspan of a manta ray is around 20 feet, while the average wingspan of a devil ray is around 10 feet.

Manta rays can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, while devil rays usually weigh less than 1,000 pounds.

Appearance

Manta rays and devil rays have some similarities in appearance, but there are also some notable differences.

Both have triangular pectoral fins that they use to swim, but manta rays have cephalic fins that devil rays lack. Manta rays also have broad heads and slender heads, while devil rays have more triangular heads.

Additionally, manta rays have gill openings on the underside of their bodies, while devil rays have gill slits on the sides of their bodies.

Distinct Characteristics

One of the most distinctive features of manta rays is their horns, which protrude from the front of their heads. Devil rays do not have these horns.

Manta rays also have gill plates that help them filter food from the water, while devil rays lack these plates.

Habitat and Distribution

a mata ray swimming underwater

Devil and manta rays are found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. The oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris) has a wide distribution, occurring in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

The reef manta ray (Manta alfredi) has a more limited range, occurring mainly in the Indo-Pacific region. Devil rays are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, with some species such as the spinetail devil ray (Mobula mobular) occurring in the Mediterranean Sea.

In the Atlantic Ocean, devil rays are found from North Carolina to the southwest coast of Ireland.

Habitat Preferences

Manta and devil rays occupy different habitats within the ocean. Oceanic manta rays are typically found in open ocean habitats, while reef manta rays are associated with coral reefs and other shallow, coastal waters.

Devil rays are also found in a variety of habitats, including deep coastal waters and the open ocean. Some species such as the spinetail devil ray are associated with the Mediterranean Sea.

Manta and devil rays are filter feeders, and their habitat preferences are often linked to the availability of food.

They are known to aggregate around areas of high plankton concentration, such as upwelling zones or near the mouths of rivers. Manta rays are also known to visit cleaning stations, where they allow small fish to remove parasites from their skin.

Diet and Feeding Habits

manta ray and a woman underwater

Devil rays and manta rays are filter feeders, meaning they consume large amounts of small prey by filtering them out of the water. Both species mainly feed on plankton, such as krill, shrimp, and other planktonic crustaceans.

Devil rays are known to feed on small schooling fish, while manta rays primarily feed on zooplankton. Both species have a unique feeding behavior where they use their cephalic fins to funnel water into their mouths, trapping the prey inside.

Once they have trapped a mouthful of food, they close their mouths and swallow the prey whole.

Devil rays have been observed using a feeding behavior called “ram feeding,” where they swim at high speeds towards their prey.

This behavior is employed by devil ray species which feed on faster moving prey, such as planktonic crabs. In contrast, manta rays often feed by slowly swimming near the surface of the water, filtering out plankton as they go.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

a devil ray leaping from the water

Both the manta ray and devil ray have a slow growth rate, late sexual maturity, and low reproductive output. They are oviparous, meaning that they lay eggs.

However, unlike most other rays, they give birth to live young after the eggs hatch inside the mother’s body.

Manta rays have a longer lifespan than devil rays, with estimates ranging from 20 to 50 years. Devil rays, on the other hand, have a lifespan of about 20 years. Sexual maturity is reached at an older age in manta rays, with females reaching maturity between 8 and 10 years of age and males between 6 and 9 years.

Devil rays reach sexual maturity at a younger age, with females between 3 and 4 years and males between 2 and 4 years.

Both manta rays and devil rays have low reproductive output, producing only one offspring per litter. Manta rays have a gestation period of around a year, while devil rays have a shorter gestation period of 7 to 8 months.

The reproductive biology of manta and devil rays is poorly understood due to the difficulty in studying these animals in the wild.

However, recent research has shed light on their life history parameters, such as longevity and reproductive output. This information is crucial for the conservation of these species, which are threatened by overfishing and habitat loss.

Conservation Status

a school of manta rays swimming in the ocean

Both manta and devil rays are vulnerable species, with populations declining due to human activities such as overfishing, bycatch, and habitat destruction.

According to a study by Dulvy et al. (2014), all species of mobulid rays, including manta and devil rays, are listed as vulnerable or endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

The conservation status of manta and devil rays has been a growing concern among scientists and conservationists.

Due to their slow growth, low reproductive rates, and late maturity, these rays are particularly susceptible to overfishing and other human activities. According to a study by Marshall et al. (2011), manta rays have a longevity of at least 20 years, while devil rays can live for up to 30 years.

Efforts to protect manta and devil rays have been made by various organizations and governments. In 2013, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listed five species of manta and devil rays under Appendix II, which regulates international trade to ensure that it is sustainable and legal.

This listing has helped to regulate the trade of manta and devil ray products, such as their gill plates, which are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine.

Conservation efforts for manta and devil rays have also focused on reducing bycatch in fisheries. According to a study by Couturier et al. (2012), the mortality rate of manta and devil rays in fisheries is high, with up to 88% of individuals dying after being caught.

To address this issue, various measures have been implemented, such as the use of circle hooks, which reduce the hooking of rays, and the release of caught rays using proper handling techniques to minimize stress and injury.

Devil Ray vs Manta Ray

manta ray vs sting ray

Manta and devil rays are often confused with each other due to their similar appearance. However, there are several key differences between the two species that can help differentiate them.

Physical Characteristics

One of the most noticeable differences between manta and devil rays is their size. Manta rays are generally larger, with a wingspan that can reach up to 23 feet, while devil rays typically have a wingspan of 3-6 feet.

Manta rays also have triangular cephalic fins, which are absent in devil rays. In addition, manta rays have a more flattened body shape compared to the more rounded shape of devil rays.

Behavior

Another way to differentiate between manta and devil rays is by their behavior. Manta rays are known for their acrobatic displays, often leaping out of the water and performing somersaults.

Devil rays, on the other hand, are more commonly seen swimming close to the surface of the water.

Habitat

Manta and devil rays also have different habitat preferences. Manta rays are typically found in open ocean waters, while devil rays tend to inhabit shallower coastal areas.

Conservation Status

Both manta and devil rays are threatened by overfishing and habitat destruction. However, manta rays have received more attention from conservationists and are generally considered to be more endangered than devil rays.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between manta rays and devil rays?

Manta rays and devil rays are both members of the Mobulidae family, but they belong to different genera. Manta rays are part of the genus Manta, while devil rays are part of the genus Mobula.

One of the main differences between the two is their body shape. Manta rays have a more triangular body shape, while devil rays have a more diamond-shaped body. Additionally, manta rays have a longer tail than devil rays.

How do manta rays and devil rays differ in size?

Devil rays are generally smaller than manta rays. The largest species of devil ray, the giant devil ray (Mobula mobular), can reach up to 5.2 meters in width, while the largest species of manta ray, the oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris), can reach up to 7 meters in width.

Are manta rays and devil rays part of the same family?

Yes, manta rays and devil rays are both part of the Mobulidae family.

What are some distinguishing features of manta rays and devil rays?

Manta rays and devil rays have some distinguishing features that make them easy to tell apart. One of the most noticeable differences is the shape of their cephalic fins (head fins).

Manta rays have cephalic fins that are more triangular in shape, while devil rays have cephalic fins that are more rounded. Additionally, manta rays have a more streamlined body shape, while devil rays have a more diamond-shaped body.

Are devil rays more dangerous than manta rays?

Neither manta rays nor devil rays are considered dangerous to humans. They are both filter feeders and do not have teeth or a stinger.

What is the difference between spine-tailed devil rays and manta rays?

Spine-tailed devil rays (Mobula japanica) are a species of devil ray that are found in the western Pacific Ocean. They are smaller than manta rays and have a distinctive spine at the base of their tail. Manta rays, on the other hand, do not have a spine at the base of their tail.

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