GENERAL DESCRIPTION Manta
rays are large beautiful sea creatures that live in warm temperate waters.
Their side or pectoral fins have evolved into wide triangular wings which are
use to easily propel themselves through the water. With wingspans that reach
over 20 feet across, manta rays are one of the largest animals in the ocean.
Their broad blanket-like bodies earned them the name manta, which
means cloak in Spanish. Their Hawaiian name is Hahalua.
Mantas are members of a
group called batoids, which include rays, skates and related
fish. More specifically, manta rays are members of a larger ray group,
scientifically called Myliobatiformes. Rays share common
characteristics such as flattened, streamlined bodies and pectoral fins that
have evolved large and wide to make up much of their bodies.
Manta rays belong to the
family of rays referred to as devil rays, scientifically called Mobulidae. Devil
rays share the common characteristic of cephalic or head
fins. When unfurled, the fins help to funnel in food and water into the mouth.
To make the fins more streamlined, manta rays can roll up these flexible
appendages. When furled, these fins were thought to resemble devil horns.
When further broken down,
manta rays belong to the genus; Manta and the species name birostris.
Presently, the scientific community identifies all manta rays as one species
called Manta birostris. In the past, manta rays were broken into
as many as nine species based on their size, coloration, and location.
Researchers are working on clearing up this mystery by taking tissue samples of
various animals worldwide and comparing mitochondrial DNA.
MORPHOLOGY: Many of what were in the past-considered different species of manta
rays are in fact simply different colors of mantas. Similar to how there are
different races in humans, mantas can have different color morphologies. In
Hawaii, we typically see mantas that are black dorsally (on their back) with
white dorsal "shoulder bars". Ventrally (on their belly) they are
mostly white, with a pattern of black spots. While the dorsal coloration is
relatively similar in mantas worldwide, ventrally they can be very different. The
most extreme difference is the "black mantas". These mantas are
predominantly black on their ventral surface, with small spots or patches of
white. While both black and white mantas can be seen together in some
locations, the white color morphology is always more dominant. However, we know
these are not different species because where they are seen together, the white
mantas are genetically more similar to black mantas from that area than they are
to white mantas from any other area.