Manta rays are big and fast, and as such, have few enemies in the ocean. And while it might seem unlikely that they'd be particularly friendly, recent research has provided some surprising insights. Researchers spent five years chasing after 500 groups of manta rays off the coast of Indonesia and learned that not only do manta rays form friendships, but they tend to create cliques, as well. Manta rays were observed getting together on a regular basis at spots where food was in abundance -- shrimp and fish larvae, for the most part -- and in places where they were "cleaned" by cleaner wrasse and copepods. They then tended to go off on their own, only to return to those comfortable places later. According to the researchers, females were more likely to form longer-lasting friendships, and they preferred spending time at the cleaning locales. In contrast, the male mantas huddled more frequently at the feeding spots.
More on mantas:
- The largest manta rays are known as giant manta rays; they can grow to 23 feet (7 m) from wingtip to wingtip.
- Manta rays have been spotted at depths of nearly 2,000 feet (600 m), and can swim at speeds of 15 mph (24 km/h).
- Manta rays are known to leap out of the water, but no one knows whether it's to impress potential mates, to escape from predators, or for some other reason.