Manta Ray Says 'Ahhh' - Feeding

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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 dinner.

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!

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