Devil Rays Leap High Into The Air and No One Is Sure Why
by Chau Tu
The Munk’s devil ray (Mobula munkiana), pictured above, got the nickname “tortilla” from the fishermen in the Gulf of California where the species lives, says Octavio Aburto, an assistant professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who took the photo.
One reason for the moniker, he says, is because this species is smaller than the three other devil ray species also found in the Gulf, averaging about three feet in wingspan compared with two or three times that size for its brethren. And secondly, the sound of the ray smacking its belly onto the ocean surface after jumping into the air is reminiscent of the slapping of tortilla dough between a chef’s palms.
All 9 species of devil rays leap out of the water, but no one yet knows why, says Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, a marine ecologist who was the first to describe the Munk’s devil ray while he was earning a Ph.D at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the early 1980s. But as far as scientists can tell, the Munk’s devil ray is the only species that engages in “spectacular, frequently repeated jumping while in large-to-humongous groups,” he says, although it’s not yet clear if there’s a pattern to their leaping…
photos: devil rays in Cabo Pulmo, Mex, by Octavio Aburto / iLCP