The two marine animals have large, mostly flat bodies, tails, triangular fins, and more similar features. They are also members of the same class, Chondrichthyes. But, there are many different features that set these two apart, not least being that there are only two species of manta ray and over 200 species of stingrays. Both species are intelligent, but one is far larger than the other. 

Manta-ray
Manta ray (left) vs Stingray (right) – Visual Comparison


Main Differences between a Manta ray and Sting ray

Here are the top five main differences between a manta ray and stingray: 

  • Appearance: Manta rays have eyes on the side of their heads, whilst stingrays have eyes ontop of their body. Manta ray’s mouths are at the front of it’s head, whereas stingrays have their mouths on the under. Manta rays also do not have teeth, unlike stingrays.
  • Size: Manta rays are much larger than stingrays.
  • Diet: Manta rays are filter feeders and eat krill, fish eggs, and plankton. Stingrays feed on mollusks, crustaceans, plankton, and sometimes fish.
  • Habitat: Manta rays and stingrays both live in warm tropical waters throughout the world.
  • Lifestyle: Stingrays are much more aggressive than manta rays, with the ability to sting with their tail. Manta rays do not have a barb, so typically use their size and speed to escape predators.

We’ll explore these differences and interesting facts about each marine animal more below.

The Manta Ray 

There are only two known species of the manta ray. The two species are quite different from one another. The largest is M. birostris which can reach up to twenty-three feet in width. The smaller M. alfredi is smaller, at a maximum width of eighteen feet. Manta rays also have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish. 

Their mating takes place at different times and in different places in a manta ray’s life. As migratory animals, it is difficult for scientists to observe and document the courtship process. Individuals swim closely together, with the male right behind the female traveling at speeds of around six miles an hour. The male uses his teeth to grip the female, turn her over, and begin the mating process. 

Manta rays also have the incredible ability to breach or launch themselves out of the water and into the air. It’s unclear why they engage in this process, but scientists have suggested it could be related to communication. 

Group of Manta rays swimming
Group of Manta rays swimming


Appearance 

Manta rays have large, broad heads and triangular pectoral fins. Their shape is not dissimilar from the shape of a stingray’s body. They have eyes on either side of their heads. The width of a manta ray’s body is up to 2.2 times the length. They are usually dark on their upper side and lighter on the ventral or underside. This is known as countershading and is common in many marine creatures, according to The Manta Trust.

There are a few rare occasions that different color variations have been noted—for example, an all-black manta and even a pink manta ray. The latter was observed in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is considered the result of a genetic mutation, as noted by National Geographic. 

Diet 

Manta rays are filter feeders. This means that they use specialized filtering structures to strain food materials, like plankton, out of the water. Interestingly, the bulk of their diet comes from the middle pelagic zone, or the twilight zone. In this area, there are creatures ranging from blowfish to giant squid. But, mantas are more concerned with fish eggs and krill (in contrast to stingrays which each fish, crustaceans, and small animals). 

Habitat 

Manta rays live in warm, temperate, and subtropical waters throughout the world, like stingrays. Sadly, both species are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN for the same reasons as the stingray. They are protected in international waters by the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals. 

Facts about Manta Rays

  • Both species are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.
    Manta rays are filter feeders.
  • Manta rays are much larger than stingrays.
  • They breach for unknown reasons.
  • There are two species of manta ray.


The Stingray 

There are believed to be around 220 known species of stingrays. These are divided up into ten families and twenty-nine genera. One of the distinguishing features of stingrays is the way they move. They use their pictorial fins to create an undulating movement, allowing them to swim. The longer and thinner their pectoral fins, the faster they can swim. They grow on average to be around seven feet wide and thirteen feet long. This is far smaller than even the smallest species of the manta ray. 

Appearance 

The stingray has a flat body with large fins. This may create a rounded head shape or a more diamond-like one. They can be a variety of colors, and some can even change color throughout their lives (or when they’re growing used to a new environment).  

Their mouths are on the ventral, or bottom side, of their bodies. (Unlike manta rays which have mouths on the front of their heads.) Their teeth are modified placoid scales that they shed and replace. Some stingrays are capable of changing the shape of their teeth during mating season and non-mating season.

When breeding, the females also give off electrical signals, created by their ampullae of Lorenzini, to attract mates. The male will stay close to the female, biting her, before mating, as noted in Electrosensory optimization to conspecific phasic signals for mating and on wetwebmedia.com.

Scientists have observed that their mating period is one of the longest of elasmobranch fish. There are examples where individuals have mated for seven months before the female ovulates, according to Annual cycles of steroid hormone production, gonad development, and reproductive behavior in the Atlantic stingray. 

Stingray ventral side showing it's mouth
Stingray ventral side showing it’s mouth


Diet 

Stingrays usually eat mollusks, crustaceans, plankton, and sometimes fish. There are also freshwater stingrays in the Amazon that eat insects, as noted in  “Always chew your food: freshwater stingrays use mastication to process tough insect prey.” 

Stingrays employ different techniques when feeding. Some have different types of jaws that allow them to crush mollusks while others use external structure to guide food sources into their mouths, according to “The evolution of cranial design, diet, and feeding mechanisms in batoid fishes” and “Feeding biomechanics of the cownose ray, Rhinoptera bonasus, over ontogeny.”

Stingray sitting on the ocean floor
Stingray sitting on the ocean floor

One of the most interesting strategies is called “tenting.” This refers to the way that the stingray can control their pectoral fins and generate a suction force that pulls the prey under their bodies. 

Habitat 

Stingrays are most common along coastal tropical waters and subtropical waters and can be found throughout the world. There are some species that prefer deeper, colder water, while others prefer warmer water. 

Unfortunately, like most marine animals, they are under threat. This includes human encroachment on coastal environments, unregulated fishing, pollution, changes in ocean temperate, tides, and more. There are more than forty-five species listed as vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN. 

Facts about Stingrays 

  • There are more than forty-five species listed as vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN.
  • Scientists have observed that their mating period is one of the longest of elasmobranch fish.
  • There are believed to be around 220 known species of stingrays.
  • Their mouths are on the ventral, or bottom side, of their bodies.
  • Stingrays are more aggressive than manta rays. 


FAQs 

Which is more dangerous, manta ray or stingray?

Stingrays are more dangerous than manta rays. The latter does not have teeth, nor does it sting prey with its tail.

Is a stingray the same as a manta ray?

No, the stingray and manta ray are different. The latter is far larger than the former and is a filter feeder. The stingray is more aggressive, smaller, and consumes small fish.

Are manta rays bigger than stingrays?

Yes, much bigger. They use their size and speed to escape predators, whereas stingrays use their barbed venomous spines on their tails for protection.

Can a manta ray hurt you?

Manta rays are very large creatures, so it’s always possible. But they are not aggressive and do not have stinging tails as stingrays do.