Like Sea Lions and Seals, Manta Rays and Stingrays often puzzle people with the difference between them. However, they are two distinct species with different characteristics.
Manta Rays and Stingrays are cartilaginous fish present in oceans around the world. Both species share a similar appearance at first sight. However, a closer look will reveal significant differences in their physical and behavioral characteristics, habitat, lifespan, and role in the ecosystem.
Today we will explore the main distinctions between these two beautiful and intriguing ocean creatures. Let’s dive into the main differences between Manta Rays and Stingrays.
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What are rays?
Rays are a species of cartilaginous fish belonging to the subclass Elasmobranchii found in many oceans around the world. Surprisingly, they are closely related to sharks and skates.
In terms of morphology, rays have flattened, disk-like bodies, which gives them a distinct appearance. They have five gill openings and a mouth located underneath their large pectoral fins. Rays also have large fins that spread out sideways, resembling wings and giving them a magical appearance.
Rays also possess long, whip-like tails that, depending on the species, can display sharp, saw-edged, venomous spines. These spines are a defense mechanism that can cause painful wounds to predators.
There are over 600 species of rays, including both Manta Rays and Stingrays. There are over 200 species of stingrays, which live in both the open ocean and freshwater rivers and streams. However, there are only two species of Manta Rays: Manta Alfredi (Reef Manta Ray) and Manta Birostris (Giant Oceanic Manta Ray).
Manta Rays vs. Stingrays: Physical Differences
Manta Rays: With a wingspan measuring up to 23 feet (7 meters), Manta Rays are the largest species of rays. Their flat body shape resembles the shape of a diamond. Additionally, they have a small mouth located at the front of their heads and no stinger. Manta rays have a much thinner mesh of gill rakers, which they use to feed.
Stingrays: With a more oval-shaped body and a wider mouth located underneath their body, stingrays have shorter and thicker tails. Unlike Manta Rays, stingrays’ tails contain sharper barbs at the end. Stingrays also have more robust gill rakers, which they use to trap and prey on small animals.
Manta Rays vs. Stingrays: Behavioral Differences
Manta Rays: They present docile demeanor and are always at ease when approached by boats or divers. Known for their acrobatic exhibitions, Manta Rays are often observed leaping out of the water. They are filter feeders (filtering water to remove small particles), and their diet consists mainly of plankton.
Manta Rays are usually seen in groups and found in warm shallow waters around the globe. They have an unusual relationship with a species of fish called Cleaner Wrasses. This species feeds from parasites and dead skin of other larger fishes.
Cleaner Wrasses establish cleaning stations, and other fishes visit them to enjoy a “spa day” and get relief from parasites. As you may have already guessed, Manta Rays are notorious for being avid customers (Cleaner Wrasses remove parasites from their bodies). This symbiotic relationship helps Manta Rays maintain healthy skin while avoiding infections.
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Stingrays: in general, Stingrays are docile and non-aggressive animals. However, contrary to Manta Rays, they tend to avoid human contact. They spend most of their time well-camouflaged and buried in the sand, making it difficult to spot them.
Stingrays usually feed on small sea creatures, such as worms, crustaceans, and other small fish. As we pointed out, they are non-aggressive creatures. However, when threatened or provoked, they can use their barbed tail as a defense mechanism.
Additionally, contrary to Manta Rays, they often travel in small groups. During mating season or feeding time, they may gather in larger groups. Finally, some species of stingrays are also known for their ability to leap off the water
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Manta Rays vs. Stingrays: Habitat Differences
Manta Rays: you can usually find them in tropical waters near coral reefs. They prefer nutrient-rich waters, as they swim through the water column to collect plankton to feed from. The ideal temperature for them is between 68-86 °F (20-30 °C). Hence, they tend to migrate to cooler waters during the summer.
Stingrays: they are found in saltwater and freshwater, including shallow coastal waters, estuaries, and coral reefs. They are prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions, but some species may prefer colder waters. Additionally, you can easily find them buried or camouflaged in sandy and muddy seabeds.
Manta Rays vs. Stingrays: Role in the Ocean Ecosystem
Both Manta Rays and Stingrays play critical roles in our ocean’s ecosystem. As mentioned previously, Manta Rays are filter feeders, which eat large amounts of planktonic organisms and small fish. Hence, they support the control of the populations of these species.
Additionally, Mant Rays are prey for larger predators, which contributes to a balance in the ocean’s predator-prey relationships. Additionally, they are a significant attraction for ecotourism activities, providing a source of income for local communities.
Stingrays, on the other hand, feed on small fish and invertebrates that live on the ocean floor. Hence, similarly to Manta Rays, they are also prey for larger predators. By doing so, stingrays support the upkeep of a balanced marine ecosystem.
Stingrays also help to aerate and stir up the sediment on the ocean floor. In turn, it promotes the growth of submarine plants and other organisms.
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Manta Rays vs. Stingrays: Lifespan Differences
In terms of longevity, Manta Rays live longer than most species of Stingrays. A Manta Ray can live between 20-30 years, with some individuals living up to 50. Stingrays, on the other hand, live between 15-25. However, factors such as habitat degradation, pollution, overfishing, and climate change can affect the lifespan of each species.
The Shore Line
Although easily mistaken, manta rays and stingrays are two distinct species. Each displays different physical and behavioral characteristics that make them special and unique. Both creatures have a place in the hearts of ocean lovers, despite different habitat preferences or ecological roles.
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