Manta rays and stingrays are some of the most fascinating creatures living in the ocean, but are they just two names for the same animal?
Well, no, they are two very different groups of rays. Although there are similarities, as we compare manta ray vs stingray, we will see that they differ dramatically.
Manta rays and stingrays are both species of rays but they differ in several ways. Manta rays are larger and have a distinct triangular shape, while stingrays have a flat, round body.
Manta rays are also filter feeders, while stingrays feed on small animals and mollusks.
Additionally, manta rays do not have a stinger, while stingrays have a toxic barb used for defense.
Are Manta Rays Stingrays?
So, is a manta ray a stingray? No, they are two separate groups of rays. But before we get to the differences, let us consider the similarities.
What Similarities Are There Between Manta Rays vs. Stingrays?
Why do people sometimes get confused between manta rays and stingrays? Well, to the uneducated eye, they can look pretty similar, and as we shall see, they share quite a few similarities.
#1 They Both Have Flat Bodies
Although there are dramatic differences in the shape, mantas and stingrays have similar flat bodies with wide evolved pectoral fins fused to the head and body.
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#2 They Both Have Tails
Manta rays and stingrays both have tails, although they have different appearances and functions.
#3 They Both Are Cartilaginous Fishes
Like sharks, mantas and stingrays are cartilaginous fishes (Chondrichthyes) and are in the subclass Elasmobranchii.
#4 They Both Are Rays
Manta rays and stingrays are in the superorder rays (Batoidea). This group contains over 600 species divided into 26 families.
#5 They Both Are Myliobatiformes
Not only are they both rays, but manta rays and stingrays are members of the order Myliobatiformes, which also contains eagle rays. So, they are closely related.
#6 They Both Give Birth To Live Young
Stingrays and manta rays are both ovoviviparous, so give birth to live young.
#7 They Both Are Under Threat
10 Key Differences Between Manta Ray and Stingray
Having established that there are similarities, let’s take a look at the difference between stingray and manta ray.
#1 They Differ in the Number of Species
In terms of the number of species in each group, sting rays have mantas well beaten. There are just two different manta species, but there are approximately 220 different stingrays.
What Species of Manta Ray Are There?
Mantas used to have their own genus, but a 2018 DNA study revised the taxonomic arrangement to include them in the genus Mobula.
The two species are the oceanic manta ray (Mobula birostris – formerly Manta birostris) and the reef manta ray (Mobula alfredi – formerly Manta alfredi).
Even if you included all Mobula rays together, you would only get to 11 species.
How Many Stingray Species Are There?
Compared to mantas, there are numerous different stingrays. There are at least 220 stingray species, and these are divided into separate families including, Dasyatidae (whiptail stingrays), Hexatrygonidae (sixgill stingray), Plesiobatidae (deepwater stingrays), Potamotrygonidae (river stingrays), Urolophidae (round stingrays), and Urotrygonidae (American round stingrays).
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#2 They Differ in Size
When comparing mantas to the largest stingrays, the mantas are much larger.
To compare how big do stingrays get, we can look at the largest members of that group.
The giant stingray (Urogymnus polylepis) is found in Southeast Asia and Borneo rivers and is considered a freshwater species. It can reach up to 8 feet / 2.4 meters in diameter.
The largest marine stingray is the smalleye stingray (Megatrygon microps), and this has been recorded at up to 7.2 feet / 2.2 meters across
The largest manta ray, the giant oceanic manta ray, reaches 23 feet / 7 meters wide. So mantas can be considerably larger than stingrays.
How Big are Manta Rays?
As we’ve mentioned, the biggest manta ray is the oceanic. The smaller species, the reef manta can reach an impressive 18 feet / 5.5 meters.
What Size Can Typical Stingrays Reach?
With so many members, stingrays come in all sorts of sizes. As well as the enormous giant stingrays, there are many species of a more reasonable size.
For example, snorkelers’ most commonly seen stingray is the blue-spotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymma). This typically only gets to about 14 inches / 35 centimeters in diameter.
#3 They Are Different in Shape and Appearance
The most obvious difference between manta ray vs. stingray is their shape and appearance.
The stingray’s body is essentially round, and they are usually significantly longer than wide with the tail included.
Mantas have a flattened diamond body shape and are considerably wider than they are long.
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A stingray’s eyes are on the top of its head, unlike mantas, where they are on the sides.
Meanwhile, the stingray’s mouth is on the underside of its body, while the manta ray’s mouth is at the front of its head.
Mantas have distinctive cephalic fins below their eyes which resemble horns. Their fellow Mobula rays also have these, which is why they have the common name of devil ray.
#4 They Have Different Colors
Another significant difference between manta ray and stingray is in their coloration. Manta rays have relatively uniform black and white coloration, albeit with unique patterns for each individual.
The hundreds of stingray species differ widely in their coloration. However, many stingrays are brown or gray.
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What Color is a Manta Ray?
Manta rays are mostly black on top with a mainly white belly.
The oceanic manta ray has white shoulder markings that surround a black “T” shape on the head. They also often have white tips to their wings.
Underneath, the belly is white but may have dark ventral spots towards the ray’s abdomen. These belly spots give the manta rays the unique “fingerprints” that scientists can use for identification.
Reef manta rays have similarly white undersides with ventral spots. However, the upper surface is less distinctly divided between black and white. Reef manta rays can be completely black on top or may have white patches surrounding a prominent “V” shape of black.
What Colors are Stingrays?
Stingrays spend most of their time on the ocean floor looking for food, and their colors are used to help them blend in. Most stingrays are gray or brown and often have spotted camouflage patterns.
Stingrays found on tropical reefs have brighter colors to help them hide amongst the corals.
#5 They Differ in their Stinger / Tail
As their name suggests, stingrays have a tail with a stinger. However, while manta rays have a thin tail, they do not have any stinger or barb.
Do Manta Rays Have a Tail and a Stinger?
Manta rays usually have a long thin tail, although it is easily lost during the rays’ life.
If you’re wondering do manta rays sting or do manta rays have barbs, the answer is no. Scientists think that the manta ray’s tail is leftover from its evolution, and the manta ray sting itself has been lost.
The manta ray’s tail doesn’t appear to serve any purpose, and it isn’t used for defense, unlike the stingrays.
Do All Stingrays Have a Stinger and Tail?
Unlike manta rays, almost all stingrays have a barb or stinger on their tail, and these are used for defense. When feeling threatened, the stingray can strike with its tail in an attempt to injure its attacker and escape.
Stingrays can have one, two, or three barbs on their tails, usually located about halfway down the upper side of the tail. The barbs may only be sharp, but some can also deliver venom.
Visually, the stingers are pretty obvious, so if you see barbs, you can be confident that you’re looking at a stingray, not a manta.
#6 They Differ Where You See Them
Another big difference between manta ray and stingray is where you are likely to see them.
You will always find manta rays in the open ocean. When feeding, you might see mantas at or just below the surface in coastal waters, but you won’t find them resting or swimming on the bottom.
On the other hand, stingrays will almost always be on the sea bed where they blend in. While they do swim, they’ll usually hug the contour of the bottom and are not often seen in open water.
#7 They Differ in Food and Feeding Method
There’s also a big difference between Manta Ray vs. Stingray regarding how they feed and what they like to eat.
What Do Manta Rays Eat?
Mantas are filter feeders. This means that they swim through the water with their enormous mouths open and filter out whatever happens to be there. Mantas feed on plankton, the soup of tiny organisms found throughout the ocean. These can be small animals like krill, or fish eggs and the larvae of corals, or other animals.
Mantas are a migratory species and will cruise the oceans wherever the plankton is.
What Do Stingrays Feed On?
Stingrays typically feed on whatever they can find in the ocean bottom of their habitat.
Common stingray food includes clams, shrimp, snails, worms, squid, and small fish.
Stingrays often use electro sensing to detect food in the sand below them. They can use their body to blow the sand away from the food and direct it to their mouths. Some stingrays have jaws with flat teeth to break open hard shells.
#8 They Differ in Intelligence
When assessing stingray vs. manta ray, it’s tricky to compare their intelligence with much accuracy. Both animals have a reputation for being some of the ocean’s more intelligent creatures.
Are Manta Rays Intelligent?
Mantas have demonstrated high intelligence levels and they are known to have the largest brain-to-body weight ratio of any fish.
Scuba divers often find mantas wanting to investigate and interact with them.
Are Stingrays Smart?
Stingrays are often more aloof and nervous when it comes to human interaction compared to mantas. However, they indeed show intelligence, although perhaps in different ways.
Stingrays have been observed manipulating rocks and other objects to help them get food. In both aquariums and the wild, stingrays have learned to come to humans for food and seem to interact with them for physical contact for pleasure.
#9 They Have Different Temperament
Manta rays and stingrays seem to differ in their temperament. While mantas are generally gentle and curious, stingrays can display aggression if threatened.
How Do Manta Rays Typically Behave?
Manta rays are known as gentle giants, and aside from getting an accidental bump if you get too close, manta rays don’t pose any threat to humans.
As we’ve already seen, manta rays don’t have a stinger, so they can’t attack and will just rapidly flee the area if they feel threatened.
Manta rays are curious and like to investigate objects. They will even play in the bubbles of scuba divers, apparently because they like the way it feels on their skin.
How Are Stingrays Usually Responding?
Stingrays are also not aggressive. However, stingrays can inflict injury if they feel threatened because they have their barbed tail.
The well-known and tragic death of the environmentalist Steve Irwin was an example, where, unfortunately, in defending itself, the stingray caused a fatal injury with its stinger.
Thankfully incidents are extremely rare. However, if you are swimming with stingrays, you should be careful not to corner them or do anything else to make them feel threatened.
#10 They Have a Different Lifespan
In keeping with their significant maximum size, manta rays can live a lot longer than stingrays.
How Long Can Manta Rays Live?
A manta ray lifespan can be at least 40 years. However, because scientists have only been studying these animals closely for a short period, it may be that they can live for 50 or even 100 years.
How Old Can Stingrays Get?
Stingrays have a shorter lifespan of between 10 and 25 years, depending on the species.
Do Manta Rays Sting Like Stingrays?
In truth, stingrays and mantas have very little to do with each other in the wild.
Neither presents a threat to the other, and they don’t compete for the same food.
Likely, stingrays and manta rays don’t have any feelings towards each other. However, they certainly are not mortal enemies!
As we’ve considered the differences between Manta Ray vs. Stingray, we’ve seen many aspects that we can use to tell these two sea creatures apart.
Size, shape, coloration, typical habitat, and feeding activities are some of the most obvious.
However, manta rays and stingrays are closely related and share many similar characteristics, including giving birth to live young and having flat body shapes.
Both stingrays and manta rays are under threat from human activities, including unregulated fishing.
If you are lucky enough to see them in the wild, enjoy the privilege and try to do whatever you can to help preserve these incredible wild animals.
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt’s Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm’s desert surroundings.