Smoothtail mobula (Mobula munkiana)

Smoothtail mobula breaching
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Smoothtail mobula fact file

Smoothtail mobula description

GenusMobula (1)

In common with other species in the Mobulidae family, the smoothtail mobula has long, pointed, pectoral fins which it strokes up and down, like wings, for propulsion (2) (3). On either side of the head, and in front of its prominent eyes, are two fleshy lobes that project forward to funnel food into the mouth (3) (4). The dorsal fin is small, and the tail is long, flattened and spineless. The upper surface of its body is generally dark purplish to mauve-grey, while the underside is white, becoming blue-grey towards the ‘wing-tips’ (3) (5).

Also known as
Manta De Monk, Munk’s devil ray, pygmy devil ray.
Mante De Munk.
Diabolo Manta, Manta Raya, Manta Violácea, Tortilla.
Max width: 1.1 m (1)

Smoothtail mobula biology

Having only been discovered as recently as 1988, information on the biology of the smoothtail mobula is still relatively fragmentary (1). However, it is well known for forming large schools, appearing as conspicuous dark patches slowly cruising along the shallow coastline. Typically, its occurrence in any particular location is unpredictable, with large numbers sometimes gathering in an area for a few days, before disappearing for weeks or even months (1) (6). Another remarkable feature of this species is the frequency with which individuals breach the water’s surface, often simultaneously. The breaching behaviour is characterised by a variety of acrobatic manoeuvres, including head over tail somersaulting and high vertical leaps, followed by loud belly slaps (6).

The smoothtail mobula is thought to commonly forage along the seafloor, with mysid shrimp being its main prey, but more research is needed to assess feeding behaviour and dietary preferences (1). Likewise, very little is known about its migratory habits, other than that it is common in the Gulf of California over winter, when other mobulid species are rare or absent (6). It reproduces ovoviviparously, with each mature female producing just a single pup per litter (1).


Smoothtail mobula range

The smoothtail mobula occurs in coastal waters of the eastern Pacific, from the Gulf of California, Mexico, south to Peru, and inclusive of the Galapagos, Cocos, and Malpelo Islands (1).


Smoothtail mobula habitat


Smoothtail mobula status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Smoothtail mobula threats

Owing to its schooling behaviour and apparent benthic feeding habit, the smoothtail mobula is highly vulnerable to gillnet fishing. As may be expected of a highly mobile schooling species, large numbers are caught episodically in traditional fisheries in the Gulf of California. Although there is no fishery information outside of Mexico, there is also a high possibility that it is caught as bycatch in numerous other fisheries throughout its range. Consequently, there is great concern that catch rates may be unsustainable, particularly given this species’ low reproductive output (1).


Smoothtail mobula conservation

More research is vital to determine the impact of target and non-target fisheries on the smoothtail mobula. It is thought likely that the availability of additional fisheries information will reveal an urgent need for conservation measures including restrictions on harvest and trade (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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The lowermost region of an aquatic habitat, the bottom.
In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
Dorsal fin
In fish, the unpaired fin(s) found on the back of the body.
Ovovivipary is a method of reproduction whereby the egg shell is weakly formed and young hatch inside the female; they are nourished by their yolk sac and then ‘born' live.
Pectoral fins
The pair of fins that are found one on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
  2. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. Grove, J.S. and Lavenberg, R.J. (1997) The fishes of the Galápagos Islands. Stanford University Press, California.
  4. Campbell, A. and Dawes, J. (2004) Encyclopedia of Underwater Life. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Notarbartolo-di-Sciara, G. (1987) A revisionary study of the genus Mobula, Rafinesque, 1810 (Chondrichthyes: Mobulidae) with the description of a new species. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 91: 1 - 91.
  6. Notobartolo-di-Sciara, G. (1987) Natural history of the rays of the genus Mobula in the Gulf of California. Fishery Bulletin, 86(1): 45 - 66.

Image credit

Smoothtail mobula breaching  
Smoothtail mobula breaching

© Mark Conlin / Inc.
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