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In the reefs of the western Pacific, female manta rays pick their perfect partner by leading male suitors on a spectacular high-energy dance.
Love is in the air, or rather the water, around Yap Island in the western Pacific this month.
The male manta rays that live offshore are getting ready for their ultimate courtship test: the manta ray mating dance. It’s a rare event for the fish, which only breed once every one to three years. The big dance-off could be described as the marine world’s version of speed dating. It starts with one female manta ray leading up to 25 male suitors in an amazing acrobatic display. They all line up behind her one by one as if in military step before following their female leader on a spectacular helter-skelter chase around the reef.
The female manta ray swims as fast as she can, swooping and turning, and the males pursue her, trying to keep up. She sometimes performs dizzying somersaults out of the water as if to make it more difficult for them to mimic her. Eventually, most of the male rays get tired and give up, leaving the last one swimming in her wake the winner.
Aside from their hectic mating rituals, manta rays are also notable for having the largest brains of all the around 32,000 known species of fish. Rays can often be observed displaying intelligent behaviour such as cooperative feeding. In dense areas of plankton, manta rays feed in groups, employing the same head-to-tail line-up – known as chain feeding – as they do in their mating ritual to make sure everyone gets their fair share.
While most fish have no way of regulating their internal body temperature, manta rays also have a counter-current heat exchange system in their veins and arteries that allows them to heat up and cool down.
So as it turns out, these smart and acrobatic fish don’t need to perform their elaborate mating dances to keep warm!