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Each manta has a unique pattern of spots on its ventral surface (belly), which remains largely unchanged throughout their lives. 

It’s believed that random genetic mutations of the stem cells at the early stages of the pups development result in these widely varying patterns of pigmentation. This means that even if a manta were to give birth to genetically identical twin pups, the ventral patterning of the two would be different.

Much like a human fingerprint, the unique nature of these spots enables manta scientists to identify every individual manta just by photographing their ventral surfaces. This simple, non-invasive technique enables the development of photo-ID databases of all the mantas within a population, allowing us to estimate population size and document movements seasonally and spatially. Over time this detailed information can reveal migration patterns, habitats critical to feeding and reproduction, and much more - all of which is crucial if we are to make informed management decisions around the conservation of these animals

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