Bat ray, carpet ray, flying tortillas, mobs… With their strange appearance and quirky behaviour, mobula rays have many nicknames. Thanks to two horn-shaped fins protruding from the front of their head, they're also commonly known as devil rays. But despite their devilish looks, mobulas are harmless shy creatures who prefer plankton over. While little is known about the elusive ray, we do know they're endangered so understanding them is key for their preservation. So, without further ado, read on to discover ten mobula ray facts as we shed light on their mysterious lives.
1. Ancient Creatures of the Sea
Mobula rays belong to the family Mobulidae, which can be traced back millions of years. There are nine species, ranging from the giant devil ray (Mobula mobula), one of the largest species of mobula ray, to ocellated mobula ray (Mobula eregoodootenkee), characterised by eye-like patterns on their wings.
2. They’re The Birds of the Ocean
A mobula rays' wingspan can reach a whopping five metres, making them one of the largest rays in the world. Their expansive wings allow them to glide effortlessly through the water, like a bird soaring through the sky.
3. They Perform Mobula Ray Ballets
Mobula rays are best known for their large aggregations. One of the most famous examples of this occurs in Baja California, Mexico, where between May and September, hundreds of thousands of mobula rays cruise up the coast in mesmerising synchronised displays. For the best interactions, we recommend decamping in the sleepy village of La Ventana. Just an hour from La Paz, it provides one of the best access points to the mobulas favourite hangouts (as well as blue whales, dolphins, humpbacks and orcas). Part of its beauty is that it is still largely unknown, so get in quick.
4. They’re Flying Acrobats
If you visit Baja California during the mobula ray migration, don't be surprised if you hear the sound of popping popcorn. Known as 'flying popcorn,' these artful acrobats propel themselves out of the water so hard (pectoral fins flexed back), when they belly flop back down, the loud slap on the ocean's surface sounds like a popcorn kernel popping. There's plenty of debate on why they do this, from communicating to courting rituals and removing parasites. We like to think they're doing it for fun.
5. They Enjoy Family Dinners
As filter feeders, mobula rays have gill rakers allowing them to strain their favourite prey - plankton and other tiny fish - from the water. Once they find a plankton-rich area, they unfurl their fins and scoop prey into their mouths to be filtered. Mobula rays also enjoy family dinners and will move in a circle to concentrate plankton inside a soupy vortex which they scoop up, a technique known as 'vortex feeding.'
6. Mobula Rays Are Ovoviviparous
Mobula rays are ovoviviparous, meaning the female develops and hatches her eggs inside the body before giving birth to live young. They will typically give birth to one or two pups, which can weigh as much as 25lb. Depending on the species, they can also have long gestation periods. For example, the giant devil ray's pregnancy can last over two years.
7. They’re Deep Divers
Mobula rays can plunge nearly 2,000 metres below the sea's surface, making them one of the deepest divers of the ocean. They're also one of the fastest, having been recorded moving at 13 miles per hour. Scientists believe mobulas will bask on the ocean's surface to heat up a network of blood vessels in the brain before plunging into the deep. This ensures they stay active during their deep, cold (think four degrees) dives.
8. Devil Rays vs. Manta Rays
While manta rays are closely related to devil rays, they are different species. For starters, mantas are generally larger than mobulas. Take the giant oceanic manta ray, which can have wingspans up to seven metres. Physically, mantas have diamond-shaped bodies, while mobulas are more triangular-shaped. Manta rays are also generally more docile and slower moving, often engaging in leisurely filter feeding and interacting with divers. On the flipside, mobulas are incredibly shy and tend to avoid divers.
9. Where to See Mobula Rays
These magnificent creatures can be found in temperate and tropical oceans, from the Atlantic and Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Aside from Baja California, mobula rays are regularly seen in Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives' Baa Atoll. Other hotspots include the Outer Islands in the Seychelles, Tofo in Mozambique, Socorro in Mexico and across Indonesia.
Bonus mobula ray fact: these shy creatures rays are most active during the morning and night, and in certain areas, such as the Sea of Cortez, will create mesmerising displays of bioluminescence by disturbing the plankton they are feeding on.
10. Conservation Status
Mobula rays are currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Unfortunately, their main threats are human activity, including bycatch from fishing, boat traffic, habitat destruction and pollution. Mobula rays take several years to reach sexual maturity, which, coupled with lengthy pregnancies makes them particularly vulnerable. Conservation efforts such as raising awareness, promoting sustainable fishing practices and establishing marine protected areas are vital for the long-term survival of these magnificent creatures.