New Manta Ray Species Discovered, Expert Says

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
July 31, 2008

What scientists call the manta ray is actually at least two distinct species with unique behaviors and lifestyles, a scientist announced recently.

The more commonly known manta ray is smaller and more easily seen, usually staying near coasts.

Little is known about a second, larger species that avoids contact with humans and seems to have wider migration patterns. It also has evolutionary remnants of a spine and a harmless, nonstinging barb on its tail.

The two types—which are not yet named—also appear visually distinct, exhibiting unique colors and textures.

Andrea Marshall, a Ph.D candidate at Australia's University of Queensland, presented the findings last week in Montreal at a first-ever symposium of ray experts.

Graceful Giants

Manta rays are graceful giants in the ray family that can weigh over 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilograms).

Mantas may have wingspans of almost 25 feet (8 meters). The fish are also harmless and do not possess the poisonous barb found in some of their cousins, including some stingray species.

Australian environmentalist Steve Irwin was killed by such a barb.

While both manta species roam all the oceans, they appear to have a different lifestyle.

The smaller rays—familiar to divers in Hawaii, the Maldives, Mozambique, Australia, and Japan—are year-round residents of certain marine spots, such as coral reefs.

Scientists suspect the larger, more mysterious, rays are highly migratory animals that wander the world's seas.

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