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The natural coloration and body pigmentation of manta rays has been considered permanent over their lifespan. Recently, a discovery published in the Biological Journal of The Linnean Society by Dr. Csilla Ari, describes rapid and long-term body pigmentation changes on manta rays. Individual manta rays are identified from patterns of ventral markings worldwide and the body coloration of manta rays is used for species identification as well.


Most often manta rays are black dorsally with white “shoulder bars”. While the dorsal coloration is relatively similar in mantas worldwide, their ventral side can be very different. Typically, Mobula birostris has few spots on their ventral side with wide gray bands along the back edge of the wings. Mobula alfredi has big blotchy spot patterns on their ventral side. These spot patterns are unique to each manta and can be used for accurate identification.


The most extreme difference in manta coloration comes with the “black manta”. These mantas are predominantly black on their ventral surface with small spots or patches of white. Both Mobula birostris and Mobula alfredi species have a black coloration. Both black and white mantas can be seen together in some locations.







Body pigmentation and spot patterns have been considered unique and permanent during the lifetime of a manta ray. Our study, published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society is the first description of long-term body pigmentation changes that were documented on a captive manta ray. New markings appeared and some markings darkened in only 9 months on the head and on the ventral side of the manta ray.These results show that coloration patterns of manta rays are not as stable as has been assumed previously.


Want to learn more about manta ray coloration?

Read more in these articles!


Rapid coloration changes of manta rays

Long-term body pigmentation changes on a manta ray

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FUN FACT! Like many other open ocean animals, manta rays have countershading coloration, meaning they are dark on the top of their bodies and light underneath. This helps them blend in the their environment!

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