Do Manta Rays Have Gills Or Lungs?

Manta Rays do not have lungs but instead have gills. Yes! You read that correctly, so if you ever had any doubts about whether Manta Rays have gills or lungs, I hope this answered your very basic question. 

In this article, I will explain how they use these organs to filter their food from the water. I will also talk about other information like gill splits, any threat to a manta ray’s gills, and how the gills work. 

So, whether you’re a seasoned marine expert or simply curious about these magnificent creatures, read on to discover the fascinating world of manta rays.

Gill slits of manta rays

Do Manta Rays Have Gills Or Lungs?

Manta rays, like all rays, have gills instead of lungs. Gills are specialized organs that enable fish and other aquatic creatures to extract oxygen from the water. 

They work by extracting oxygen from the water as it flows over them while simultaneously removing carbon dioxide from the bloodstream and releasing it into the water.

The gills of manta rays are located on the underside of their bodies, behind their mouths. The gills comprise numerous tiny filaments, increasing the surface area available for gas exchange. 

As water passes over the gills, oxygen diffuses across the thin walls of the filaments and into the bloodstream, while carbon dioxide diffuses out into the water.

Like many other fish, manta rays require a constant flow of water over their gills to breathe. They accomplish this by swimming with their mouths open, creating a continuous water flow over their gills.

What Do Manta Ray Use Their Gills For?

Here are some of the ways Manta Rays use their gills for-


Manta rays use their gills for respiration, which is the process of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide to produce energy. Like other fish, manta rays extract oxygen from the water through their gills. 

The manta ray’s gills are located on the underside of their body and are protected by a series of plate-like structures called gill rakers.

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Filtering Food

Manta rays are filter feeders, meaning they feed on small organisms, such as plankton and krill, suspended in the water column. 

They swim with their mouths open and use their gill rakers to filter out food particles from the water. Oxygen is extracted as water passes through their gills, and carbon dioxide is released.

Extracting More Oxygen

Manta rays have a unique respiratory system that allows them to extract more oxygen from the water than other fish. 

They have a series of small flaps called “spiracles” located behind their eyes that allow them to draw water into their gills, which helps them to extract more oxygen-rich water. 

This adaptation is significant for manta rays since large animals require significant oxygen to support their metabolism.

Gills of manta rays

How Many Gill Slits Do Manta Rays Have?

Manta Rays have five pairs of gill slits located on their body’s ventral surface (underside).These gill slits serve as the primary means for the manta rays to breathe, allowing water to flow over their gills and extract oxygen from them. 

Manta rays have a unique respiratory system that allows them to continuously swim and breathe simultaneously, which is essential for their active lifestyle.

It’s worth noting that the number of gill slits can vary depending on the species of the manta ray. 

The most commonly recognized species, the giant manta ray (Manta birostris), has five pairs of gill slits, while the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi) has six or seven pairs.

How Do Manta Ray’s Gills Work?

The structure of their gills is slightly different from other fish species. As mentioned above, Manta rays have five pairs of gills on the underside of their bodies, behind their mouth. 

These gills are protected by a hard, bony plate called the branchial basket, which helps to direct water over the gills and prevents damage from rough sand or rocks.

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Each gill comprises a series of thin, comb-like structures called gill rakers, which are covered in tiny filaments called lamellae. 

As water passes over the gill rakers, oxygen diffuses across the thin membranes of the lamellae and into the bloodstream.

Manta rays are able to extract oxygen more efficiently than many other fish species due to their unique respiratory system. 

They are able to force water through their gills by opening and closing their mouths, which creates a pumping motion that allows water to flow over the gills even when the rays are not swimming. 

This is known as “ram ventilation” and allows manta rays to extract more oxygen from water than other fish species that rely on a passive water flow over their gills.

What Can Hurt The Gills of a Manta Ray?

As we already know, the gills of a Manta ray are of immense importance because they breathe through their gills, so anything that damages or impairs their gills can be harmful to them.

  1. Some potential threats to the gills of a manta ray include pollution, which can introduce harmful chemicals or toxins into the water and damage the delicate tissues of the gills. 
  1. Physical damage to the gills can also occur if the manta ray gets tangled in fishing nets or encounters other sharp objects in the water.
  1. Additionally, changes in the temperature or chemistry of the water, such as a decrease in oxygen levels or an increase in acidity, can also harm the gills and make it more difficult for the manta ray to breathe properly.
Manta rays gills


Why Do Humans Want Manta Ray’s Gills?

The main reason why people want Manta Ray gills is that some traditional Chinese medicine practices use the gills of manta rays. 

However, it is important to note that the use of manta ray gills in traditional medicine is controversial and unsustainable, as it contributes to the decline of manta ray populations.

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In traditional Chinese medicine, manta ray gills are believed to have medicinal properties and are used to treat various ailments, such as asthma, rheumatism, and cancer. The gills are usually dried and made into a powder or tea for consumption.

Furthermore, in traditional Chinese medicine practices, manta ray gills are believed to have detoxifying and immune-boosting properties and be used to treat childhood chickenpox.

It is important to note that manta rays’ gills’ detoxification and immune-boosting properties have yet to be scientifically proven, and using them for such purposes is not recommended.

However, it is important to recognize that using manta ray gills in traditional medicine has been linked to the worldwide decline of manta ray populations.

Can Manta Ray Breathe Out of Water?

No, manta rays cannot breathe out of the water as they are obligate water breathers. Like all other fish, they need water to pass over their gills to extract oxygen from them.

Manta rays have a spiracle, which is a small hole behind their eyes that is used for breathing while feeding or when their mouth is closed. 

This spiracle is not used for respiration when they are out of the water but rather for passing water over their gills while they are feeding.

If a manta ray is removed from the water, it will be unable to breathe and will quickly suffocate. Therefore, it is crucial to handle manta rays with care and release them back into the water as soon as possible.


No, manta rays do not have gill operculum. The Gill operculum is a bony plate that covers and protects the gills of bony fish. 

On the other hand, manta rays are cartilaginous fish, meaning their skeleton is made of cartilage instead of bone. As such, they lack bony structures in bony fish, including gill opercula.

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