Manta rays are the largest rays in the world! From wingtip
to wingtip, mantas can grow to be seven meters across, which is about the same
as 3 1/2 bedroom doors stacked end to end. That's a very big fish!
Judging by their huge size and enormous mouths, you might
guess that mantas would choose to eat large sea creatures-- but mantas eat
almost nothing but different types of itty bitty plankton. Swooping in slow
circles, mantas will filter their food by drawing water into their huge gaping
mouths and pushing it out over their gills, straining the plankton on their
gill rakers. Gill rakers act like colanders or strainers do when we make pasta
or wash vegetables-- the water runs freely through, but all of that tasty food
is caught for us to munch on!
Those of you with really sharp eyes may have noticed a small
fish clinging to the manta's body as it feeds. That's a remora, and although it
may be enjoying the loop-de-looping ride, what the remora is really hoping is
that some of that plankton will slip from the manta's mouth to give it an easy
It might seem strange that such a large animal as a manta
ray would specialize in eating something as tiny as plankton, but there are
lots of large animals that do this. Baleen whales, like humpbacks and right
whales, all use a similar strategy to catch massive amounts of plankton to eat.
Another large creature that depends on plankton is the largest fish in the
world-- the whale shark!