Tags: Ray Biology,  Ray Taxonomy,  Ray Reproduction 

Ray Biology

The group of cartilaginous fish in the family Mobulidae (Mobulid rays) consists of two genera, Manta and Mobula, with two and nine species respectively1,2. All mobulid rays have diamond shaped bodies, wing-like pectoral fins used for propulsion, and five pairs of gill slits. They usually inhabit pelagic zones3,4. Mobulids are often called “devil rays” because of the cephalic fins on the front of their heads that resemble “horns”. The cephalic fins unfurl and help guide water into their mouths, and modified gill features filter zooplankton and small fish, their primary food sources5-7.

Manta rays

The genus Manta includes the larger Manta birostris (oceanic manta), the smaller Manta alfredi (reef manta), and a possible third species, Manta. cf birostris1 Both M. birostris and M. alfredi are circumglobal in overall range, and overlap in some locations8. M. cf birostris, is likely limited to the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean1. Manta birostris has a maximum wingspan (disk width, or DW) of seven to nine meters1,3. Manta alfredi has a maximum 4 to 5 meter disk width9, and usually occupies tropical areas.

Mobula Rays

The nine Mobula species range in size from the largest, Mobula mobular, which can reach 5.2 meters DW, to the smallest, Mobula eregoodootenkee, which averages only 1.1 meters DW10. Mobulas can be found in temperate and tropical waters worldwide. Some Mobula species are range restricted, such as Mobula kuhlii and Mobula eregoodootenkee, found only in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans respectively. Other species, such as Mobula tarapacana and Mobula thurstoni, are thought to be circumglobal2,11. Since information on the distribution of this genus is based on sparse records and misidentification is common, the estimated ranges of individual species, and even some species classifications, will likely change in the coming years.







Manta birostris

Oceanic Manta Ray


Circumglobal, tropical and subtropical

680 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Manta alfredi

Reef Manta Ray


Circumglobal, tropical and subtropical

450 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Mobula eregoodootenkee

Long-horned Pygmy Devilray

Near Threatened

Wide, Tropical Indo- West Pacific

100 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Mobula hypostoma

Atlantic Devilray

Data Deficient

Western Atlantic

120 cm



Mobula japanica

Spine Tail Devilray

Near Threatened, Vulnerable in S.E. Asia


310 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Mobula kuhlii

Shortfin Pygmy Devilray

Data Deficient

Indian Ocean and Western Central Pacific

119 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Mobula mobular

Giant Devilray


Mediterranean and possibly North Atlantic

520 cm



Mobula munkiana

Pygmy Devilray

Near Threatened

Eastern Pacific

110 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Mobula rochebrunei

Lesser Guinean Devilray


Eastern and Southwestern Atlantic

133 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Mobula tarapacana

Sicklefin Devil Ray

Data Deficient

Probably circumglobal, Indian, Pacific, Atlantic Oceans

370 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Mobula thurstoni

Bentfin Devilray

Near Threatened, Vulnerable in S.E. Asia

Circumglobal, temperate and tropical

180 cm


Targeted, Bycatch

Ray Reproduction

All mobulids are aplacental, viviparous species, meaning that they give birth to fully developed live young4,7,12, and typically bear only a single pup with each pregnancy12,13. While the lifespan and age at sexual maturity are not yet known for many mobulid species, long-term studies of M. alfredi populations in various locations indicate a life history incompatible with targeted commercial fishing.

For example, female M. alfredi are believed to reach maturity at 8-10 years9, however female M. alfredi in an extensively studied population in the Maldives showed no mating scars and did not become pregnant for a number of years after reaching mature size. These observations indicate that female M. alfredi in some subpopulations may not mate until an age of 15 years or more14.

M. alfredi near a Mozambique study site and in Maui had a biennial reproductive period with some females pupping in consecutive years13, while in the Maldives, the reproductive cycle appears to be significantly slower, with female M. alfredi giving birth on average to only one pup every five years14. M. alfredi have been confirmed to live at least 30 years17 and both manta species are believed to live 40 years and possibly longer9,15.

Brain Size and Intelligence

Recent research has revealed that manta and mobula rays have the highest brain mass to body mass ratio of all elasmobranchs, comparable to some birds and mammals. They exhibit high maneuverability, and increased social and cognitive abilities16. Divers cite numerous examples of manta rays cooperating and accepting help when entangled in lines, and many report that injured manta rays even seem to seek assistance.



1 – Marshall, A. D. 2009. Biology and population ecology of Manta birostris in southern Mozambique. PhD Thesis, University of Queensland

2 - Notarbartolo di Sciara, G. 1987. A revisionary study of the genus Mobula Rafineque, 1810 (Chondrichthyes: Mobulidae) with the description of a new species. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 91: 1-91

3 - Compagno, L.J.V. 1999. Checklist of living elasmobranchs. In: Hamlett, W.C. (ed). Sharks, skates, and rays: the biology of elasmobranch fishes. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press. p 471–498

4 - Deakos, M.H. 2010a. Ecology and social behavior of a resident manta ray (Manta alfredi) population off Maui, Hawai’i. PhD thesis, University of Hawai’i, Manoa, Hawai’i.

5 - Maigret, J. and Ly, B. 1986.. Les poissons de mer de Mauritanie. Science Nat., Compiègne.

6 - Notarbartolo di Sciara, G. and Hillyer, E.V. 1989. Mobulid rays off eastern Venezuela (Chnodrichthyes, Mobulidae). Copeia, 3: 607-614.

7 -  Compagno, L.J.V. and Last, P. 1999. Mobulidae. In: Capenter, K.E. and Niem, V.H. (eds), FAO species identification fuide for fishery purposes. The living marine resources of the western Central Pacific (Volume 3. Batoid Fishes, Chimeras and Bony Fishes. Part 1 (Elopidae to Linophymidae)). Rome: FAO.

8 - Kashiwagi, T. Marshall, A. D., Bennett, M. B., and Ovenden, J. R. 2011. Habitat segregation and mosaic sympatry of the two species of manta ray in the Indian and Pacific Oceans: Manta alfredi and M. birostris. Marine Biodiversity Records: 1-8.

9 - Marshall, A., Bennett, M.B., Kodja, G., Hinojosa-Alvarez, S., Galvan-Magana, F., Harding, M., Stevens, G. & Kashiwagi, T. 2011. Manta birostris. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2..

10 - Bizzarro, J.J., Smith, W.D. & Clark, T.B. 2006. Mobula munkiana. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2..

11 - Clark, T.B., Smith, W.D. & Bizzarro, J.J. 2006. Mobula thurstoni. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2..

12 - Marshall, A., Ishihara, H., Dudley, S.F.J., Clark, T.B., Jorgensen, S., Smith, W.D., and Bizzarro, J.J. 2006. Manta birostris. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Version 2010.4 www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded 12 February 2011.

13 - Marshall, A.D. and Bennett, M.B. 2010. Reproductive ecology of the reef manta ray Manta alfredi in southern Mozambique. Journal of Fish Biology, 77(1): 169-190.

14 - Anderson, R.C., Adam, M.S., Kitchen-Wheeler, A., and Stevens, G. 2010. Extent and economic value of manta ray watching in Maldives. Tourism in Marine Environments, 7 (1): 15-27.

15 - Marshall, A.D., Dudgeon, C.L. and Bennett, M.B. 2011. Size and structure of a photographically identified population of manta rays Manta alfredi in southern Mozambique. Marine Biology, 158 (5): 1111-1124.

16 - Ari, C. 2011. Encephalization and brain organization of Mobulid Rays (Myliobatiformes, Elasmobranchii) with ecological perspectives. The Open Anatomy Journal, 3: 1-13.

17 - Clark, T.B. 2001. Population structure of Manta birostris (Chondrichthyes: Mobulidae) from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. MS thesis, Texas A&M University, Galveston, TX


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