Manta Ray Social Structure
The interactions of manta rays
For long it was believed that manta rays were basically loners, but at present it is suggests that they are more sociable than thought. In fact, the behavior of manta rays has not been observed frequently as in the case of fish and other aquatic animals, but experts have some data safe.
Normally, manta rays swim in solitary but interact with other organisms of the same species during courtship and mating. The courtship process is particularly important because manta rays are polygamous animals and copulate with various individuals throughout their lives. When males detect a receptive female they begin to follow her. But don’t think these are two or three males, it is about 25-30 individuals placed one after another to track the movements of the female and compete to be “the best” in order to copulate with it. This formation is called “mating train” and is one of the most obvious social interactions of manta rays.
The chosen male mates with the female for a few seconds. Regularly, both individuals are separated and don’t re-join or get involved again; if the female gives birth it does not provide parental care after her offspring in a similar way to that of mammals since the small manta rays are born completely independent and do not need to be fed with breast milk. Therefore, the relationship between the mother and its baby is much reduced.
The above can make it appear that manta rays are some kind of not very social beings. But, in contrast, many individuals have been seen regularly together in so-called cleaning stations, forming groups of aggregation. These stations are areas where coral reef allows small fish and other organisms to consume or eliminate parasites and dead tissue from their body. It has been noticed that females attend more often and spend more time there than males, perhaps because they have to devote much time to find receptive females. Some manta rays return to the same station several times over a period of time that may span several years or even their entire lives.
Sometimes manta rays meetings are more complex. Areas rich in plankton are visited for obvious reasons, and it is common to form larger groups. At the moment it is unclear whether they relate based on a hierarchy of dominance, but fidelity to the cleaning stations and feeding sites varies according to the age and of course sex, as mentioned.
There have been large groups of up to 50 manta rays during migrations, swimming gracefully across the ocean and in a straight line. It’s not uncommon for them to occasionally jump out of water in a probable attempt to remove external parasites, play or communicate. It is noteworthy that during these social interactions they don’t show territorial behavior and are able to associate with other fish, mammals and seabirds.
Their relationship with humans is not very relevant, since the contact between the two is unusual in many regions. In recent years diving activities with manta rays have become popular, which may not be very beneficial to them because many people try to “ride” their bodies without knowing it could eliminate the mucus layer that protects them from infections.
Some scientists consider the size of their brain to suggest more complex social relations, but so far this has not been proven.