Spinetail mobula (Mobula japanica)

Spinetail mobulas, ventral view
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Spinetail mobula fact file

Spinetail mobula description

GenusMobula (1)

The spinetail mobula (Mobula japanica) is a large and graceful ray, with a very long, whip-like tail, which has a sting at the tip, a spine at the base and a row of small white ‘teeth’, known as denticles, along each side (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). The upperside of the body is dark blue or black, with slit-like spiracles and white areas behind the eyes (2) (4) (6). The body of all Mobula species is flattened into a disc that is much wider than it is long and is rhomboid in shape (7). Small denticles are present on the upperside of the disc, as well as on the cephalic fins, lower jaw, gills, abdomen and the underside of the pelvic fins (6).

The underside of the spinetail mobula is white, and features two cephalic fins, one on either side of the mouth (2) (5). The cephalic fins protrude forwards and are silver-grey on the inner surface with black tips (2) (6). The mouths of Mobula species have teeth in both jaws (5) (7).

Juvenile and newborn spinetail mobulas have white shoulder patches (3).

Also known as
devilray, Japanese devilray, spinetail devilray.
Mante Aguillat.
Manta De Espina, Mante De Aguijón.
Male disc width: up to 310 cm (2) (3)
Female disc width: up to 240 cm (2)
Disc width at birth: c. 85 cm (3) (4)
Adult weight: c. 115 kg (5)

Spinetail mobula biology

The diet of the spinetail mobula is mostly composed of plankton, krill and other euphausiids such as Nictiphanes simplex, although copepods, small fishes and crustacean larvae are also occasionally taken (1) (2) (3).

The spinetail mobula may occur both singly and in small groups, but is not thought to form large schools (1) (2) (3) (4). In certain areas, the spinetail mobula mates in spring and summer, after which the female gives birth to a single litter (3) containing one pup (1). This species is ovoviviparous, meaning that the eggs hatch inside the female’s body and the young are born live (2). The female has just one functional ovary and during the first stage of internal development, the embryo is initially enclosed within an egg and nutrients are gained from the yolk sac. After hatching from the egg inside the female, the embryo continues to develop and obtains its required nutrients from the fluid in the female’s uterus until the pup is born live (1)


Spinetail mobula range

The spinetail mobula is found in the warm temperate and tropical waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (1) (2) (3) (4) (6). The southern Gulf of California is thought to be an important feeding and mating area for adult spinetail mobulas (1).

The presence of this wide-ranging fish in the northern and western Atlantic Ocean is unconfirmed (1) (6), and its range may be more extensive than is currently known (2).


Spinetail mobula habitat

The spinetail mobula occurs in both inshore and offshore waters and is usually found close to the surface of the water (3) (4).


Spinetail mobula status

The spinetail mobula is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Spinetail mobula threats

The spinetail mobula is commonly caught as bycatch by the fishing industry throughout its range. It is also caught purposefully in Indonesia, Mexico, the Gulf of California and the Philippines, where it is used for its gills, cartilage, skin and meat (1) (2).

The slow reproduction of the spinetail mobula puts it under particular threat from overfishing, while unsustainable fishing practices may be reducing its worldwide population size (1).


Spinetail mobula conservation

More research is needed into the biology of the spinetail mobula to assess the extent to which fishing poses a threat to its population size. Legislation is being introduced in Mexico to establish an elasmobranch fishery management programme, and improving recorded catches of the spinetail mobula would help identify fluctuations in catch and fishing effort (1).

In the Philippines it is currently illegal to fish for any Mobulidae species, although enforcement is inadequate and illegal fishing is still thought to occur. Immediate conservation measures must be implemented to manage the trade and harvest of this unique species (1).


Find out more

Find out more about the spinetail mobula:

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In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
Cephalic fins
Thick, flap-like, fleshy appendages of Mobulidae species (mantas and devil rays). Actually modifications of the front portion of the pectoral fin, they are used to funnel plankton and other prey items into the mouth.
A large and diverse group of minute marine and freshwater crustaceans. They usually have an elongated body and a forked tail.
Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
A member of a group of cartilaginous fish that includes sharks, skates and rays.
A group of shrimp-like marine crustaceans that includes krill.
Immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
The female reproductive organ that produces ova, or eggs.
Producing young that develop inside eggs, but the eggs hatch inside the female’s body and the young are born live.
Relating to or inhabiting the open ocean.
Pelvic fins
In fish, the pair of fins found on the underside of the body.
Aquatic organisms, usually tiny, that drift passively with water movements; includes phytoplankton (plants), zooplankton (animals), or other organisms such as bacteria.
In sharks and some other fish, small holes behind the eye through which the fish can take in water while lying on the seabed. Water enters the spiracles and is passed out over the gill openings, bypassing the mouth.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2012)
  2. FishBase - Spinetail mobula (March, 2012)
  3. Michael, S.W. (2005) Reef Sharks and Rays of the World: A Guide to Their Identification, Behaviour, and Ecology. ProStar Publications, Maryland.
  4. Bonfil, R. and Abdallah, M. (2004) Field Identification Guide to the Sharks and Rays of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
  5. Eschmeyer, W.N., Herald, O.W., Mammann, H. and Gnagy, J. (1983) PacificCoastFishes. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
  6. Smith, M.M. and Heemstra, P.C. (1986) Smith’s Sea Fishes. Macmillan South Africa, Johannesbourg.
  7. Paulin, C.D., Habib, G., Carey, C.L., Swanson, P.M. and Voss, G.J. (1982) New records of Mobula japanica and Masturus lanceolatus, and further records of Luvaris imperialis (Pisces: Mobulidae, Molidae, Louvaridae) from New Zealand. New ZealandJournal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 16: 11-17.

Image credit

Spinetail mobulas, ventral view  
Spinetail mobulas, ventral view

© Jeff Yonover / imagequestmarine.com

Image Quest Marine
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