What Are the Main Differences Between Stingrays and Mantas?

They may look similar on initial observations, but stingrays and mantas are two very different sea creatures - here's why.

Jun 4, 2023byDonna Hobson
differences stingrays mantas

Stingrays and mantas are two species of marine animals that share many similarities in appearance and behavior. However, there are also some key differences between them that make them distinct from each other.

This article will explore the main differences between stingrays and mantas in terms of their physical characteristics, habitat, diet, reproduction, and life cycle. We will also discuss how these differences can affect their interactions with their environment and each other. By understanding these distinctions, we can better appreciate both species of aquatic animals.

Mantas Are Larger

Giant manta with diver
Image Source: Giant manta becomes the first manta ray to be listed as an endangered species — Marine Megafauna Foundation

Stingrays and mantas are two of the most fascinating and beautiful creatures living in the ocean. Although they may look similar, they have many differences. One of the most apparent differences between mantas and stingrays is their size.

While both vary in size depending on species, stingrays are generally much smaller than mantas. Typical widths of these creatures are around 45 cm for a stingray and 450 cm for mantas. The largest stingray on record was 13 feet long and weighed 661 lbs; this sounds impressive but pales compared to thelargest recorded size for a manta, which measured a massive 30 feet and weighed around 5,000 lbs.

Different Habitats

Freshwater Stingray
Image Source: Freshwater Stingray: A Care Guide For This Impressive Species (aquariadise.com)

Stingrays and mantas both prefer warm regions in many tropical and subtropical ocean regions worldwide. They can inhabit areas as far North as North Carolina and as far south as New Zealand, commonly located offshore but sometimes making their way into estuaries, inlets, and bays.

Still, there is one main difference between these two fish; the manta only inhabits seawater, while some stingrays can also live in freshwater. While most cartilaginous fish live in saltwater environments, the freshwater stingray inhabits (as the name would suggest) freshwater areas of the Amazon. Here, they feed on a range of crustaceans and invertebrates. Even though they are reasonably docile creatures, they are still accountable for more human injuries per year than any other water-based animal of the Amazon.

Stingrays Are More Dangerous

stingray tail stinger barb
Image Source: Can a Dead Stingray Kill You? | HowStuffWorks

Stingrays are gentle and playful creatures found in oceans around the world. They are curious animals that explore their surroundings, and when they sense a threat, their first inclination is to swim away.

Still, if they feel that they are being attacked, they will use their stingray tail spines as a defense mechanism. These spines cut through your skin and create an open wound, which can then be used to inject venom, which can get into your blood. The most common reaction people experience is severe pain and swelling, but there can be complications such as paralysis or even death in rare cases.

In contrast, mantas are the gentle giants of the ocean who pose little to no threat to humans. Despite their vast size, mantas are calm and peaceful creatures who spend their time gliding peacefully through the sea. They do not possess a defensive sting or barb; instead, relying on their size and agility to evade predators.

Eating Habits

manta filter feeder in ocean
Image Source: Manta Ray Cyclone Feeding – News – Kokomo Private Island Fiji (kokomoislandfiji.com)

Another significant difference between stingrays and manta rays is their feeding styles.

Mantas are filter feeders that feed by straining food particles from the ocean; they use their mouths like a sieve and do not have teeth. Filter feeding is an efficient way for these animals to get their necessary nutrients without relying on hunting or scavenging for food. So, their diet primarily consists of zooplankton like krill, shrimp, and planktonic crabs. They consume some small to medium fish, but they only amount to roughly 12% of its total body weight each week.

In comparison, stingrays are bottom feeders, aquatic creatures who use their mouths (on the underside of their bodies) to suck up small prey and dead matter from the ocean floor. Bottom feeding is a natural process that helps maintain balance in aquatic environments by consuming decaying matter and preventing overpopulation by eating eggs and young fry. They eat using “jaw teeth” that can crush the hard shell of invertebrates, their primary food source. They also have small plates in their mouths that help them grind up food into bite-sized pieces. This allows them to consume various foods, including clams and other shellfish, crustaceans, mollusks, and worms.


manta rays and stingrays
Image Source: Difference Between Manta Rays and Stingrays – Ocean Conservancy

Mantas can live for up to 50 years, twice as long as stingrays, who live for an average of 15-25 years. This could be because mantas have fewer natural predators (thanks to their size), or it could simply follow the general rule that larger animals live longer.


manta ray swimming gliding
Image Source: Do Manta Rays Use “Fin Language” to Communicate? | Psychology Today

Stingrays are intelligent fish who can manipulate objects to get food and amuse themselves with playful behavior. Still, they do not have the same brain power as the manta, which possesses the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish.

These brains are specially developed in problem-solving, learning, and communication. Indeed, scientists have noticed that mantas are more prone to interaction than many other fish, making them much more similar to mammals in that regard. In addition, mantas are one of only a few animals that can pass the mirror test, suggesting they may possess self-awareness.

Manta Rays are Romantic

manta ray courtship display
Image Source: Trio of Devil Rays Caught in Rare Courtship Dance in Stunning Underwater Photo | Live Science

When it’s time for stingrays and mantas to mate, both sets of females release pheromones to draw attention from the males. But what happens next is quite different for the two fish. A male stingray approaches the female and follows her closely until he can bite her and insert his clasper.

In contrast, the manta attracts more than one potential suitor by zooming away and getting several males to chase after her so that she can assess their physical prowess. This ritual creates a beautiful courtship display lasting for hours until only one suitor remains. One theory for this impressive display is that manta rays only tend to give birth once every 4-5 years, so they want to seek out the best mate possible.

Something They Have in Common

stingray and fish in ocean conservation
Image Source: Ocean Conservation (Hope) Photographer of the Year 2022, AS – Oceanographic – Oceanographic (oceanographicmagazine.com)

Stingrays and manta rays are two of the ocean’s most beautiful and majestic creatures, but sadly their populations are threatened by human activity. The most significant issues include overfishing, climate change, and habitat loss. Also, manta rays are targeted for their gill rakers and are more likely to get caught up in fishing nets due to their vast size.

The best way that you can help these animals is to adopt a plant-based diet or opt for sustainably sourced seafood. Reducing your carbon footprint, reducing consumption, reusing and recycling, and educating yourself and others are great ways to help the future of our oceans.

Donna Hobson
byDonna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.