The reef manta ray can be found in a variety of patterns.
  • Size

    18 feet (5.5 m) wingspan
  • Diet

    Plankton and small fish
  • Range

    Eastern Atlantic, Indo-West Pacific and the Indian Ocean
  • Habitat

    Reefs, atolls, island groups and continental shelves

Physical Characteristics

  • The reef manta has a broad head with an enormous wide mouth flanked by two broad, flexible, fleshy lobes (cephalic fins). These lobes are usually kept rolled and pointed forward except when the manta is feeding. At this time, the cephalic lobes will open and extend.
  • Sometimes called the “devil ray” because when rolled and projected forward, the cephalic lobes have the appearance of horns.
  • The maximum adult size is about 18 feet (5.5 m) in wingspan.
  • This species of manta may show great variation in pattern, but generally can be described as such:
    • Dorsal surface is dark in color with lighter shoulder patches. The shoulder patches of M. alfredi are less defined, and more mottled than those of M. birostris.
    • The underside is mostly white, dotted with black or charcoal spots. It lacks the dark border present on the ventral surface of M. birostris.
    • Patterns on the shoulders and underside exhibit vary and help identify individual animals.
  • Dermal denticles on skin are evenly spaced but not arranged in a linear pattern.
  • The mouth is white to pale grey.
  • The tail is whip-like but has no barb or bony mass at the base. This is an identifying feature of this species.

Animal Fact

Reef manta rays are frequently observed around reefs, atolls, island groups and continental shelves.

Diet / Feeding

  • Primarily a plankton feeder, but also consumes small fishes.
  • Its two cephalic lobes are unrolled and held at a downward angle to create a funnel guiding prey into its mouth.
  • Feeds near or at the surface where plankton accumulates, frequently around reefs. The prey that enters the mouth is filtered from the water by the gill rakers (filter plates), located on the internal gill arches, and then swallowed.
  • During feeding, the reef manta ray may repeatedly somersault underwater and also occasionally break the surface. It can also feed in a horizontal orientation.

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs in warm temperate and tropical waters of the far Eastern Atlantic and the Indo-West Pacific, and is widespread in the Indian Ocean.
  • Frequently observed around reefs, atolls, island groups and continental shelves with consistent upwelling currents.

Reproduction & Growth

  • Ovoviviparous, meaning that the embryo develops within eggs retained in the mother’s uterus. The embryo is nourished by its egg’s small yolk, but also receives nourishment from the mother through small projections in the uterus called “villi” or trophonemata.
  • Females give birth to one or two live young.
  • The pups are born with their wings folded around their body to allow easier passage through the birth canal.

Conservation Status

  • “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • Has been observed jumping out of the water, mainly in spring and autumn. This seems to be associated with mating displays, although it may also be social behavior or actions related to dislodging skin parasites.
  • “Manta” comes from the Latin mantum, meaning cloak or veil.
  • Fishing pressure and bycatch in drift and set nets are depleting local populations.
  • It is harpooned and harvested in some areas for its meat, skin and oil-rich liver.
  • The branchial arches of the gills are dried and used in Asian medicine, contributing to additional harvesting.
  • The only natural enemies of the reef manta ray are large sharks and humans.
  • This manta ray has 6-8 rows of teeth on the center of the lower jaw.


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