How Mantas Filter But Never Clog

Manta rays spend much of their time leisurely cruising through the water with their meter-wide mouths open. As they swim, they filter plankton, which makes up most of their diet, from the water. And they do so without ever clogging. 

The inside of the manta’s mouth is lined with gill rakers (upper right), a series of comb-like teeth. When flow hits the leading edge of these (bottom), it creates a vortex that accelerates any particles caught in the flow. They essentially ricochet along the top of the gill rakers, getting led straight into the manta’s digestive system – while excess water gets deflected between the gill rakers and back out the manta’s gills. To drive this, all the manta has to do is swim; with the right flow speed, the shape of the gill rakers handles all the filtration with no additional effort. (Image credit: manta ray – G. Flood; gill rakers – M. Paig-Tran; flow vis – R. Divi et al., source; research credit: M. Paig-Tran et al.; via The Atlantic; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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