Manta Ray Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lisa Hanson

Lisa is a Continuous Improvement Coach for her school district and has taught in elementary school for many years. She has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

Down in the dark, deep ocean there are enormous flat creatures with wings that flap effortlessly through the water. In this lesson you will learn more about the appearance, range, diet, and threats to the manta ray.

What are Manta Rays?

I think at some point we all wonder and imagine what creatures can be lurking in the ocean. One of those creatures is called the manta ray. The manta ray is a cartilaginous fish. This means it is a fish that only has cartilage and no bones, like sharks. They use their gills to breath underwater, and must keep moving at all times for the water to flow over their gills. The word 'manta' is Spanish for cloak or shawl. The manta ray really doesn't resemble a fish, however. This is because it is flat and has wing-like fins to help move through water.

Manta rays are unusual looking fish with no bones.
Manta ray

Description and Size

Manta rays have flattened bodies with flapping triangular fins, also called wings. They are usually black, grey, and white, but each ray has its own unique variations of spots and coloring. They are like fingerprints; each manta is different. They have very large rectangular mouths for gulping up food. They have tails, but no stingers like other types of rays.

Manta rays can get very large. Their wing span is usually 9-11 feet across and can weigh up to 3,000 pounds! This is about as heavy as a car. Their wingspan is over two times as long as their bodies. The largest manta ray was found to be 23 feet across and almost 6,000 pounds!

Habitat and Range

Manta rays can be found in oceans all around the world, but are usually closer to the equator. This is because they prefer the more tropical waters. They often visit coral reefs to feed and be cleaned. Bigger manta rays will swim out in the deeper oceans, while the smaller ones stay closer to the reefs and island groups.

The blue area shows where manta rays can be found.
World Map


Even though manta rays are very large in size, what they eat is very tiny. They eat small organisms, or living things, like plankton, shrimp, krill, and arrow worms. Some of these are so small you would need a microscope to see them. The rays will swim around the organisms, rounding them up into a big ball. They will then swim into it with their large mouths open. Their gills will strain out the sea water. It is not known for sure, but scientists think they hunt more at night.

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