Phenomena

Filter-Feeding Mantas

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Large filter-feeders like the manta ray face the interesting challenge of obtaining enough small particulates like plankton to sustain an animal the size of a car. They do this through what is known as ram filter-feeding, essentially swimming open-mouthed through food-laden waters, filtering out the food, and releasing the water through their gills. Their internal filtration doesn’t simply catch particles like a colander does, though – it would be too easy for the ray’s filters to clog. Instead, the animals use several alternative methods to catch and redirect particles toward their esophagus. One, known as crossflow filtration, causes water to turn sharply through the filters. Heavier particles cannot accelerate that quickly, so they are carried onward. Another method, vortex filtration, works like a tiny centrifuge, spinning the water and ejecting the heavier particles back toward the esophagus. (Video credit: Science Friday; research credit: E. Paig-Tran, thesis)

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