Facts from the Field: Manta Ray Cleaning Stations
The natural world is full of parasites, and large animals like manta rays offer the perfect micro-habitat for tiny animals to live on. Some animals are able to remove these itchy pests by grooming or cleaning themselves, but mantas do not have hands, beaks or raspy tongues so they have developed a symbiotic relationship with another animal who can do the job for them. These other animals are a variety of small cleaner wrasses species, a small reef fish. Their small size enables them to survive on the tiny pests that cover their clients. They even explore the mantas ‘gaping mouths and remove the parasites stuck inside the mantas gills, a dangerous job for a small fish. The size of the cleaner wrasse limits their mobility, so instead of searching for clients in the open ocean, the clients come to them at their salon, a small reef outcrop or coral bommie. Mantas visit these ‘cleaning stations’ daily and can be seen here for hours at a time getting cleaned and even waiting in line for their turn. Not only do the cleaners remove itchy parasites and algae from the skin and inside the mouth, but they also help to heal any wounds or shark bites by removing all the dead skin and bacteria to enable a rapid recovery. So here you have it, a manta spa, doctor’s surgery and dentist all rolled into one.
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