Manta Ray Teeth

Written by Nilani Thiyagarajah
Published: February 3, 2023
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There are so many amazing animals under the sea. One example is manta rays. There are actually two species of manta rays, with Mobula alfredi being smaller than Mobula birostris (with wingspans of 14 and 22 feet, respectively).

From what scientists know, manta rays are very intelligent and even have problem-solving skills. They can be found in the seas all over the world, in both warmer temperate and tropical climates.

Manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of all fish. They are cartilaginous fish, members of a subclass that is referred to as elasmobranchs.

The subject of manta ray teeth is very interesting. Read on to learn everything there is to know about the teeth of these animals, as well as how they use them and how they eat!

Do Manta Rays Have Teeth?

Manta ray

A manta ray’s rows of teeth are located in the center of their lower jaw.


Manta rays do have structures comparable to teeth, although it’s somewhat debatable whether these are true teeth. There are 18 rows of these tiny structures, which are each approximately as big as the head of a pin.

These rows of teeth are located in the center of the manta ray’s lower jaw. There are fewer rows towards the corners of the mouth, usually 12-14. Mobula birostris has additional, larger teeth on its upper jaw as well.

Each tooth has a crown with a somewhat blunt surface. Upon a casual glance, it’s somewhat difficult to distinguish these teeth from the scales (denticles) that the manta ray has inside its mouth. Both species of manta rays have these scales, although the exact structures somewhat differ.

If you look at the tooth band of a manta ray, it somewhat resembles sandpaper. Interestingly, manta rays do not use these teeth for feeding.

It’s possible they play a crucial role in courtship and mating for these animals, however. In this process, the male manta ray will chase a female for a long period of time. Once he successfully catches her, he will use his rows of teeth to grab one of her pectoral wings before mating with her.

How Do Manta Rays Eat?

Manta ray

In the mouth of the manta ray, there are gill arches and gill rakers.


Since manta rays don’t use their teeth to consume food, you might be wondering how exactly they eat.

In the mouth of the manta ray, there are gill arches and gill rakers. The arches function to keep the mouth open for the animal to feed. The rakers take plankton out of the water and push it back toward the esophagus of the manta ray. The water goes through the gills of the animal to provide it with oxygen, and it exits the system through the gill slits.

Suction does not play a role in this process. The manta ray just swims through plankton-rich water, and they filter the feed to get their food. The mouth of the manta ray is located underneath its body, and the water moves through the mouth as the animal swims forward. 

To feed, manta rays put their cephalic fins into a round shape and open up their mouths completely. This forms a makeshift funnel that will push plankton-rich water into their mouths.

Manta rays also use different strategies to maximize their food intake. One of these is creating feeding chains with other mantas. Another is basically doing repeated somersaults in the water.

What Do Manta Rays Eat?

Manta rays are not capable of swallowing anything other than small organisms, mostly planktonic organisms. In fact, if a fish that is too large accidentally gets into the mouth of a manta ray, the manta ray will instantly spit it out.

The diet of the manta ray consists mostly of copepods, euphausiids, decapod larvae, mysids, and shrimp. However, they have occasionally been known to eat fish of small and moderate sizes as well.

Do Manta Rays Use Their Teeth to Defend Themselves?

Even though manta rays have teeth, they can’t bite other animals. They also don’t have the ability to defend themselves against predators using their mouths. Their method of saving themselves from predators is flight. They can move very quickly and swim away from their predators fairly easily.

Due to the size of the manta ray, it has very few natural predators. The only animals that prey on the manta are large sharks, such as hammerhead sharks and tiger sharks.

Can a Manta Ray Bite You?

Manta ray

Manta rays are closely related to stingrays, but they do not have stinging tails or barbs.


Just as a manta ray is not able to bite its predators or prey, it’s not going to bite a human either. In fact, it’s considered safe to swim with manta rays. These animals are calm and docile, posing no threats to humans. They are not predatory when it comes to humans, and they don’t even display aggressive behaviors.

Manta rays are closely related to stingrays, but they do not have stinging tails or barbs. The manta ray has a tail that looks similar to that of a stingray, but unlike the stingray’s tail, it serves no purpose.

However, this does not mean that you should get too close to the manta ray. It’s a docile animal, but it’s still very large, and both you and the manta can end up with injuries from an overly close encounter.

In fact, touching a manta ray can actually be harmful to the animal. Its skin is covered with a mucus coat that serves as a protective barrier. It repels any bacteria that would otherwise interact with the skin of the manta ray.

If you touch the manta ray, the oil on your hands can disrupt the mucus coat or even remove the mucus layer if you happen to be too rough. This could possibly put the animal in danger of infection.

Additionally, if you try to touch a manta ray, you could end up scaring it and causing it to rapidly swim away. Even though this animal has an impressive array of teeth, these teeth are not going to harm anyone, and it’s important to treat these gentle giants with respect.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Hoiseung Jung/

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