Skate vs Manta Ray: What Are The Differences?

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: May 13, 2022
Image Credit Natia Tsuleiskiri/Shutterstock.com
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Even though they are closely related to sharks and stingrays, did you know that there are significant differences between skates and manta rays? Skates are a highly diverse group of cartilage fish belonging to the family Rajidae. They are primarily bottom dwellers, ranging from intertidal zones to depths of around 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). On the other hand, manta rays are the largest ray species in the world, belonging to the genus Mobula. They are found in oceans worldwide and have the largest brain to size ratio of all cold-blooded fish. 

But, what is the difference between these animals, and how can you identify them? This article will uncover everything you need to know about skates and manta rays. We’ll compare and contrast them based on their appearance, habitats, mode of reproduction, feeding habits, and economic benefits. Let’s dig in to find out more!

Comparing Skates vs Manta Rays

Skates and manta rays differ in appearance, habitat, feeding habits, and reproduction.

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SkateManta Ray
SizeVaries greatly by species, from about 12 inches to more than 8 feet long.They have a wingspan of up to 29 feet from tip to tip. The larger species reach up to 23 feet in width while the smaller species reach 18 feet in width.
Physical Appearance-Flat body shape with flat pectoral fins extending the length of their body.
-Unlike the Stingrays, the tails of skates do not have venomous spines. 
– Presence of holes and spiracles located next to the eyes.
-Large, flat, diamond-shaped bodies.
-Triangular pectoral fins.
-Presence of two horned-shaped cephalic fins.
HabitatThese creatures are bottom-dwelling species inhabiting soft-bottom substrates of warm temperate to tropical waters.They are found worldwide in tropical, subtropical, and temperate ocean waters.
Feeding HabitsMainly carnivorous, feeding on benthic invertebrates such as the crabs and worms.Manta Rays are filter feeders and macro predators that dine on zooplankton in the form of shrimp or krill.
ReproductionAll species of skates are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs.Manta rays are viviparous, which means they give birth to live young ones.

The Key Differences Between Skates and Manta Rays

The key differences between skates and manta rays are appearance, habitat, feeding habits, and reproduction.

There are a number of primary distinctions between skates and manta rays. However, one thing that stands out at first glance is their shape. Skates are triangular or rounded with a pointy nose, while manta rays are diamond-shaped. Thanks to these configurations, both animals have become highly efficient predators of life beneath the sediments. In 2008, scientists discovered two species of manta ray – the reef manta and the giant oceanic ray. Studies have shown that manta rays can recognize themselves in a mirror and that they produce long-term memory mental maps of their surroundings with the use of visual cues and smells. 

With about 574 species, skates have more species than any other groups of cartilaginous fishes. Since 1950, over 120 new skate species have been discovered. The majority of the skate species are known as hardnose skates because of their stiff snouts. They are important predators that control the population of many organisms.

Now, let’s look at the differences between these animals in detail!

Skate vs Manta Ray: Physical Appearance

Skate Fish Mouth
Skates have a pointed snout and two small dorsal fins near their tail’s end.

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Skates generally have a pointed snout and two small dorsal fins near their tail’s end. The disc and tail are usually partly covered with dermal denticle patches. In addition to the dorsal fins, they have flat pectoral fins that extend the length of their body. They also have a flat body shape made of cartilage, not bones. A skate’s gills and mouth are located on its underside. Skates are characterized by holes called spiracles, located next to the eye and assist with respiration.

On the other hand, manta rays have two horn-shaped fins protruding from the front of their heads, which has also given them the nickname “devil fish.” These highly intelligent, highly threatened creatures do not have stinging barbs on their tails but rather a bulbous knob at the end of their tail. Like skates, they are covered in dermal denticles, v-shaped seals that protect them and reduce drag when swimming. Their eyes are located on the sides of their heads, giving them lateral vision. The gills of manta rays can be found on their underbellies, and they have two-shaped cephalic fins to guide water and prey into their wide mouth.

Skate vs Manta Rays: Habitats

manta ray swimming close to ocean floor
Manta rays inhabit tropical and subtropical waters as well as temperate seas all around the planet.

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There is a high degree of endemism among all skate species. This means that each species often only inhabits a specific area of the world. Usually found in shallower waters toward the poles, they occur deeper in tropical waters. They are most diverse at higher latitudes and deeper water. 

Manta rays, meanwhile, inhabit tropical and subtropical waters as well as temperate seas all around the planet. They travel offshore during the winter but are normally around seashores from spring to fall.

Skates vs Manta Rays: Feeding Habits

The majority of skates are carnivorous, feeding on benthic invertebrates such as crabs, worms, shrimp, and amphipods alongside fishes. They feed on these animals with the aid of grinding plates in their mouths.

Contrastingly, mantas are filter feeders, which is unlike most other rays. They have a forward-facing mouth and feed on zooplankton in the form of shrimp and krill. They swim forward and filter their tiny prey through rows of tiny rakes called gill plates with their mouths open. 

Skate vs Manta Ray: Mode of Reproduction

Manta Ray seen from below
Manta rays are considered to be viviparous.

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All skate species are oviparous. Females lay eggs in cases that are known as mermaid’s purses. Typically, a female can form two single embryo eggs at a time and leave them to develop independently. Manta rays, however, are considered to be viviparous, which implies that they expel their young ones alive and well-formed. After birth, these young ones are abandoned to fend for themselves.

Skate vs Manta Ray: Economic Benefits

Skate fish on ocean floor
Skates are highly vulnerable to exploitation due to their large size, slow growth rate, and low reproductive rate.

A Cotton Photo/Shutterstock.com

Both animals are highly vulnerable to exploitation due to their large size, slow growth rate, and low reproductive rate. They are endangered due to overfishing for their meat by humans who consider them a delicacy or good bait. The gill plates of manta rays are used in Chinese medicine for unsubstantiated purposes.

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

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