Having previously announced the discovery of a second manta ray species, SOSF funded Dr Andrea Marshall has now published the specifics of the differences between the two in leading taxonomic journal Zootaxa. Prior to Andrea’s analysis of their morphological characteristics manta rays throughout the world’s oceans had been accepted as one species (Manta birostris), but now it is apparent there is indeed a smaller, more tropical species (Manta alfredi).
The distinction between the two species has been based on morphometric measurements and external characters including colouration, dentition, denticles and spine morphology. In some areas, such as Mozambique where Andrea is based, both species of manta ray are found, whereas in others, such as the Socorro Islands off Costa Rica, only the larger M. birostris is encountered. Awaiting further taxonomic evidence, there may even be a third variant species of manta ray in the Atlantic.
The clarification of these manta rays species as separate is particularly important when identifying the threats aech of them faces, such as overfishing, boat strikes and habitat degradation, and will consequently help significantly when determining the worldwide conservation status of each species respectively.
For more information on Andrea’s work with manta rays be sure to check out our featured article ‘Andrea: Queen of Mantas‘, as well as the BBC Natural World programme of the same name, which is still available on BBC iPlayer here.