Mantas are extremely large rays. Their basic body shape is similar to that of other rays, with large triangular fins and a long, thin tail. They have two fins around their forward-facing mouths, called “cephalic fins”. These fins resemble horns, leading to mantas and their relatives being nicknamed “devil fish” or “devil rays”.
Like stingrays, their tail has remnants of a barbed spine, although mantas do not sting and the barb is harmless. It is vestigial, meaning it is a leftover feature of the manta’s ancestors that no longer serves a purpose.
The manta’s coloration is black above with white markings, and white below. The two species of manta can be distinguished by their size and coloration. In reef mantas, the white coloration on the animal’s back is less sharply defined, while on the oceanic manta the white markings have a harder, more clearly established edge.
Oceanic mantas are larger than reef mantas. Their “wingspan” usually measures around 15 feet across on average, though larger examples can be as wide as 23 feet. Reef mantas average around 11 feet wide.