Devil Ray vs Manta Ray: What are the Differences?

Biggest Fish: Giant Ocean Manta Ray
Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jeremiah Wright

Published: May 14, 2022

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Mobulids, which include the devil and manta rays, are among the most stunning, intriguing, and puzzling species in our waters. These cartilaginous, filter-feeding fish are close cousins of all ray and shark species and can be found across the world’s tropical and subtropical oceans. They are destined for a life of continual activity, as they must have water running over their gills to breathe. Their daily and seasonal movements are in sync with the rise and fall of ocean currents, which bring them food in the form of zooplankton.

Most people associate manta rays with the massive oceanic manta or reef manta rays. However, these rays are frequently confused with the Mobula devil rays. Because they share a common origin, most scientists consider mantas to be a younger cousin of devil rays.

However, if you know where to look, you may easily see significant physical differences that distinguish the two species. They also have distinct characteristics and behaviors that serve to differentiate them from one another. In this article, we’ll compare both fish and take you through some important differences which you can use to tell them apart.

Key Features Between Devil Ray vs Manta Ray

It is hard to distinguish between manta rays and devil rays because both animals have almost identical shapes, sizes, and colors.
Devil Ray Manta Ray 
TaxonomyGenus: Mobula RafinesqueGenus: Manta
Appearance More pointed than a Manta. Slender heads, cephalic fins, or horns, pointing forward.Broad heads and triangular pectoral fins, horn-shaped cephalic fins on the two sides of the mouth, and gill openings on their ventral surfaces. 
SizeLength: 17 feet. 
Weight: Can weigh as little as 650 pounds. 
Length: Oceanic manta rays are usually about 13 feet but can reach 22 feet. Reef manta rays are usually about 10 feet. 
Weight: May weigh up to 4,500 pounds. 
Distribution Mostly found in deep coastal waters. They are most prevalent in The Mediterranean Sea, but they are also in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, particularly off the southwest coast of Ireland and south of Portugal, as well as the northwest Atlantic.Manta rays are seen in abundance in the open ocean or on reefs along the coast. They can be found from North Carolina to northern New Zealand. They favor cold, subtropical, and tropical waters in general.
Diet and Feeding Behavior Devil rays eat planktonic crustaceans and small schooling fish, which are caught with the aid of adapted gill covers (branchial plates). Their mouths filter zooplankton from the water as they swim toward the surface. They also feed on krill, shrimp, and planktonic crabs.
Lifespan Survive for between 15 to 25 years. Can live for up to 40 years in the wild.

The Key Differences Between Devil Rays and Manta Rays

The key differences between devil rays and manta rays are taxonomy, appearance, size, distribution, feeding behavior, and lifespan.

Let’s explore these differences in detail!

Devil Ray vs Manta Ray: Taxonomy

Manta rays are closely related to devil rays, and they are all categorized as mobulid rays. This family was previously thought to consist of 11 species, comprising nine devil ray species and two manta ray species. However, current genomic studies have cast doubt on these classifications. It’s thought that a third manta ray species lives in the Atlantic Ocean and that some devil ray species found worldwide are related. Current studies are attempting to establish the identities and borders of these species.

Devil Ray vs Manta Ray: Appearance

Biggest Fish: Giant Ocean Manta Ray

Manta rays possess horn-shaped cephalic fins on the two sides of their mouth and gill openings on their ventral surf.

It may not be easy to distinguish between reef manta rays and devil rays. This is because both animals have identical shapes, sizes, and colors and are frequently confused. But when you take a closer look, you’ll find that the devil ray is significantly more pointed than a manta ray. Their heads are slender, and instead of curving around the mouth like manta rays, their cephalic fins, or horns, point forward. This is how the Devil Ray got its name. 

Contrastingly, broad heads and triangular pectoral fins characterize manta rays. They also possess horn-shaped cephalic fins on the two sides of their mouth and gill openings on their ventral surfaces. Their bodies are horizontally flattened, and their eyes are at the back of the cephalic fins, on the sides of their heads. Their tails are shorter than their disc-like bodies, and they have no skeletal support. The dorsal fins are tiny and located towards the tip of the tail.

Devil Ray vs Manta Ray: Size

devil fish or devil ray (Mobula mobular)

The devil ray is the third biggest species in the genus

Mobula

.

The largest ray species on the planet is the oceanic manta ray, which is closely followed by the reef manta. The wingspan of a fully developed oceanic manta ray can extend up to 22 feet from tip to tip of each wing, but most have lengths of about 13 feet. On the other hand, Reef manta rays are usually between 9 and 11 feet long, but there have been cases where lengths of up to 16 feet have been recorded. 

Following the manta rays, the devil ray is the third biggest species in the genus Mobula. It is a big marine vertebrate with a maximum known length of disk width of about 17 feet. However, typical disk width lengths of this species are around 9 feet. 

Manta rays can weigh up to 4,500 pounds, which is significantly more than devil rays, which can weigh as little as 650 pounds.

Devil Ray vs Manta Ray: Distribution

Manta rays are seen in abundance in the open ocean or on reefs along the coast. They can be found from North Carolina to northern New Zealand. They favor cold, subtropical, and tropical waters in general.

Meanwhile, giant devil rays are mostly found in deep coastal waters, although they can sometimes be found in shallow areas. They are most prevalent in the Mediterranean Sea. Still, they are also in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, particularly off the southwest coast of Ireland and south of Portugal and the northwest Atlantic. The species has been found in several Mediterranean countries, including Greece, Croatia, Turkey, and Italy, indicating that it has a broad range. Deepwater is their preferred habitat.

Devil Ray vs Manta Ray: Diet and Feeding Behavior

Manta ray floating underwater among plankton

A manta ray’s mouth is towards the front of its body rather than under its head.

Only manta and devil rays have developed into filter feeders among the various ray species. This is why, unlike most rays, a manta ray’s mouth is towards the front of the body rather than under its head. Their mouths filter zooplankton from the water as they swim toward the surface. They also feed on krill, shrimp, and planktonic crabs. Manta rays also have sophisticated hunting skills. A ray will gather small fish into tight balls at great depths before racing through and gobbling them up with a wide-open mouth.

Although manta rays lack stingers, some devil ray species do, though this is usually enclosed and harmless. Devil rays eat planktonic crustaceans and small schooling fish, which are caught with adapted gill covers (branchial plates), giving them their devilish appearance. They feed mostly on euphausiid shrimp and small clupeid and mesopelagic fishes.

Devil Ray vs Manta Ray: Lifespan

Another significant distinction between a manta ray and a devil ray is their longevity. Manta rays can live to be 40 years old in the wild. Also, some researchers believe that the oldest manta rays live to be 50 years old. Conversely, most devil rays survive for between 15 and 25 years. While a devil ray’s lifespan is not small, it is just about half that of a manta ray.


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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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