The Manta Ray is the largest of the ray type of fish and a close relative of the shark. Unlike other fish, rays do not have bones--their skeleton is made of cartilage. They have a short tail and no stinging spine, so they are harmless to humans. Manta rays grow to be almost 30 feet long and average 22 feet wide. The largest can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds! Manta rays are dark brown on top and have whiteish undersides. Each manta ray has unique speckled markings on its top, helping to identify individuals. They have large triangular fins from their head to their tail and smooth skin.
Mantas swim in tropical seas, living both close to shore, in coral reefs, and in open seas. They are solitary fish and are common world-wide. Mantas eat microscopic plankton, small fish, and tiny crustaceans. These rays have soft tissue filters above their gills and wide lobes that push food towards the mouth. Often manta rays are seen jumping out of the water, as high as 2 feet, and then returning. Scientists are not sure why this jump takes place--it is just one of the many things yet to discover about the manta.
Male manta rays are mature by the time they are 13 feet long; females must be 16 feet. After mating, the female will carry one egg a season. That egg is laid and hatches inside the female and then is delivered into the water. This process, called ovoviviparity, is very unusual for fish and sets the manta ray apart in this group.