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Eye to Eye with a Manta Ray

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The manta ray has fascinated people for centuries. Yet we usually encounter them as they glide magnificently through the oceans.  A luck few will get to see them break the surface and leap in to the air.  For many people, however, the only time they will encounter a manta ray is in an aquarium.  It is then that the inquisitive rays will show their faces, as it were.  The result is quite extraordinary.

However, the physiology of the manta ray (rays in general in fact) has led to some confusion – often people think that they are being ‘eye-balled’ by a ray.  The youngster in the picture above quite possibly believes that the ray in the pool is exchanging glances with him.  Yet if you look at the first picture again you will see that the eyes are above these openings. These things that look like eyes are in fact something else altogether.

They are spiracles. These are openings on the exterior of some species of animals that usually lead to respiratory systems – and this is the case with the manta ray.  However, while manta rays do indeed have spiracles on their bodies they do not take in water as you might expect.  All of the water is taken in through the mouth. It is thought that these spiracles were once utilized for that purpose but over the five million years that the manta ray has basked through the oceans they have become redundant.

The truth of the matter is that if you are indeed ‘eye-balled’ by a manta ray you will certainly know it – as these pictures show!

First Image Credit Flickr User Andrew Seaman

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