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Latin american journal of aquatic research

versión On-line ISSN 0718-560X

Lat. Am. J. Aquat. Res. vol.48 no.4 Valparaíso set. 2020 

Short Communication

First confirmed record of the occurrence of the lesser devil ray, Mobula hypostoma (Elasmobranchii, Mobulidae), in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico

Luis Fernando Del Moral-Flores1 

Itzel Meza-Abundio1 

Horacio Pérez-España2 

1Laboratorio de Zoología, Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Tlalnepantla, Estado de México, México

2Instituto de Ciencias Marinas y Pesquerías, Universidad Veracruzana, Boca del Río, Veracruz, México


Nine specimens (one female and eight males, all juveniles) of lesser devil ray, Mobula hypostoma (Bancroft, 1831), were caught in the southwest Gulf of Mexico. These specimens represent the first record of the species in the Mexican waters. The disk width ranged between 552 and 773 mm. Morphometrics data are consistent with previously published records. Because of the number of specimens captured, we suggest that it is not a rare species in the southwest Gulf of Mexico.

Keywords: Mobula hypostoma; Chondrichthyes; devil ray; distribution; morphometry; western Atlantic

The family Mobulidae is a group of planktivorous and piscivorous elasmobranchs. They were commonly known as mantas or devil rays that are widely distributed in temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters of all oceans (Couturier et al., 2012). They are large chondrichthyans with a lobe on each side of the head, pectoral fins as wings, terminal mouth and a tail without a stinger, ranging in disc width from 100 to 700 cm (Notarbartolo-di-Sciara, 1987; McClain et al., 2015). Devil rays have peculiar patterns in their life histories; their reproductive aspects, and coupled with inadequate fisheries management, make them prone to some state of risk (Couturier et al., 2012). Therefore, it is necessary, despite having charismatic representatives, to implement strategies that will help their conservation (Lawson et al., 2017).

Nowadays, the family Mobulidae is represented by nine valid species grouped in a single genus, Mobula Rafinesque, 1810 (White et al., 2018). However, the taxonomic situation of this family has been complex; previously, the genus Manta Bancroft, 1829, was recognized as valid based on the terminal position of the mouth (Marshall et al., 2009). Moreover, recent studies suggest a cryptic species distributed in the Caribbean region (Marshall et al., 2009; Hinojosa-Alvarez et al., 2016), sympatric with three other valid species (Mobula sp., M. birostris and M. mobular).

Mobula hypostoma (Bancroft, 1831), locally known as “maroma”, is distributed on both coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. In the western Atlantic, its estimated distribution includes tropical and subtropical coastal waters. From Mar del Plata in Argentina to Cape Lookout, North Carolina in the USA, including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico (Notarbartolo-di-Sciara, 1987). However, the details of its biology are scarce as well as its distribution; in fact, records of this species in the Gulf of Mexico are sporadic, and there are no valid records of their presence in Mexican waters (Del Moral-Flores et al., 2015). This contribution aims to provide evidence of the presence of M. hypostoma in the southwest portion of the Gulf of Mexico, based on five records and nine specimens collected in these waters, representing the first verified physical record of the species for the country.

During a study on the composition of the chondrichthyans associated with the state of Veracruz's artisanal fisheries, southwestern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, nine individuals of the genus Mobula were captured in May, June, August, September, and October of 2018. The catches were made through beach nets of 700 m and mesh openings of 2 and 3 inches, on the beach, in Las Barrancas (18°59'58.4“N, 95°57'55.8”W), Alvarado, Veracruz. The specimens were frozen and transferred to the Ichthyology Collection of the Zoology Laboratory of the Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala (CIFI), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) for its correct determination using specialized keys (McEachran & Carvalho, 2002; White & Last, 2016). Body measurements were taken according to the Notarbartolo-di-Sciara (1987) protocol, and a series of photographs and a sample of muscle tissue were taken. Subsequently, they were processed curatorially (fixed in 10% formaldehyde, preserved in 70% ethyl alcohol) and deposited in CIFI 1411, 1412, and 1413.

The nine specimens, one female and eight males, ranging from 552-773 mm in disk width were identified as Mobula hypostoma (Atlantic devil ray or “maroma” in Spanish) (Fig. 1) based on the following combination characters (sensuNotarbartolo-di-Sciara, 1987): absence of caudal spine; base of tail depressed laterally; length of the upper and lower dental bands less than 55 and 52% of the width of the mouth, respectively; small, sub-circular spiracle, ventral to the plane of the pectoral fins; imbricated teeth, with sexual dental dimorphism in adults; first interbranchial distance greater than 13.2% of disc width (DW); distance from the distal end of the cephalic fin to the spiracle greater than 13.4% of the DW; preoral distance less than 40% of DW; and maximum DW of ca. 125 cm. However, large specimens with an DW of 107 to 230 cm have been recorded in the vicinity of Isla Margarita in Venezuela, these differences in size, as suggested by Ehemann et al. (2017), could indicate that these organisms are members of a subspecies of M. hypostoma or even an undescribed species restricted to the Caribbean.

Figure 1. Mobula hypostoma from the southwest Gulf of Mexico (CIFI): a) Dorsal view, b) ventral view, c) the right side of the head region showing that spiracle's openings. 

Table 1 presents the specimens' morphometric measurements, which agree with those mentioned by Notabartolo-di-Sciara (1987) in their review of the genus Mobula Rafinesque, 1810.

Table 1 Morphometrics, expressed in percentage of the disk width, of the nine specimens of Mobula hypostoma

Measurement/Sex F M M M M M M M M Range % AD
DW 578 707 605 607 610 613 594 773 552
DL 312 357 304 311 319 323 325 380 287 49.2-54.7
AP 236 242 254 228 258 243 254 250 230 32.3-42.8
MRMp 324 363 308 316 323 328 327 385 293 49.8-56.1
PD 270 307 273 270 282 284 286 327 251 42.3-48.1
DB 31.9 48 30.3 33.4 33.9 35.3 34.8 46.4 28 5.0-6.8
DH 31 36 23.9 27 24.5 23 24.6 30.2 19 3.4-5.4
PrD 247 301 256 250 271 274 262 306 242 39.6-44.7
TL 433 521 448 427 449 436 398 s/c 400 67.0-74.9
1GL 41 49 29.9 30.9 33.5 32.2 35.3 39.2 30 4.9-7.1
2GL 29.5 51 32 35 32.9 34.7 36 41.9 31 5.1-7.2
3GL 30.7 52 33.1 34.5 34.6 36.4 36.1 42.2 32 5.3-7.4
4GL 39 52 31.7 32.4 31.9 33.6 33.7 40 29 5.2-7.4
5GL 22.7 42 23.1 22.5 23.8 24.8 20.6 29.7 21 3.5-5.9
1ID 87 106 92 93 92.4 96 93 97.9 73 12.7-15.7
2ID 20.1 35 32 31 30 32 32 25.1 21 3.2-5.4
R1G 74 80 78 78 80 82 79 83 62 10.7-13.4
R5G 132 156 138 139 147 148 138 177 126 22.1-24.1
PFL 70 77 69 71 70 72 65 76.6 47 8.5-12.1
CFL 72 111 72.6 71.6 75.1 75.6 74.4 90.8 63 11.4-15.7
CFW 24.6 38 22 24.8 25.9 30.8 23.5 31.1 22 3.6-5.4
DE 10.1 14 10.9 12.6 13 11 12.8 13.6 12 1.7-2.2
CW 111 146 132 131 126 114 144 138 106 17.9-24.2
PL 20.5 36 22.7 21.8 22.2 22.8 21.8 26.5 22 3.4-5.1
HL 70.6 107 78.9 80.5 82.4 83.1 81.9 99.7 61 11.1-15.1
MW 68.1 95 75.6 72.8 71.4 74.8 73.4 91.1 62 11.2-13.4
ID 67 88 65.4 63.4 65.5 66.6 65.6 77.2 57 10.0-12.4
UTL 38.7 38.17 36.6 33.6 35.4 36.2 32.8 42.8 29 5.3-6.7
LTL 33.5 38.68 37.4 36.1 36.5 37.1 34.9 43.5 27 4.9-6.2

Annotations. Sex M: males; F: females. DW: disc width, DL: disc length, AP: anterior projection, MRMp: from the midpoint of rostral margin to free rear tip of the pelvic fin, PD: predorsal distance, DB: dorsal fin base length, DH: dorsal fin height, PrD: precloacal distance, TL: tail length, 1GL: 1st-gill opening length; 2GL: 2nd-gill opening length; 3GL: 3rd-gill opening length; 4GL: 4th-gill opening length; 5GL: 5th-gill opening length,1ID: first interbranchial distance; 2ID: fifth interbranchial distance, R1G: from the midpoint of rostral margin to transverse line of 1st-gill openings; R5G: from the midpoint of rostral margin to the transverse line of 5th-gill openings, PFL: pelvic fin length, CFL: cephalic fin length, CFW: cephalic fin width, DE: diameter of the eyeball: CW: cranial width, PL: preoral length, HL: head length, MW: mouth width, ID: internarial distance, UTL: upper tooth band length, LTL: lower tooth band length.

The determination at the species level within Mobula is problematic, due to the morphological similarity and the overlapping distribution of their species (Couturier et al., 2012); moreover, the lack, loss, and destruction suffered by some type specimens have caused some nomenclatural and taxonomic problems and confusions (White et al., 2018). Notarbartolo-di-Sciara (1987) synonymized the nominal species Ceratobatis robertsii with M. hypostoma, and does not consider necessary to designate a neotype for M. hypostoma since it is the only known “small” mobula of the western Atlantic; moreover, the same author validated M. rochebrunei as proper to the eastern Atlantic. Recently, some gaps in their phylogenetic tree of the genus and family were clarified with the help of molecular data, finding that M. rochebrunei is a junior synonym of M. hypostoma, which is restricted to the Atlantic Ocean (White et al., 2018).

The records of M. hypostoma in the western Atlantic have been deficient and sporadic; there is a summary of its occurrences in Bigelow & Shroeder (1953) and Notarbartolo-di-Sciara (1987). The Gulf of Mexico records are restricted to the north, being those of the present contribution the first record confirming its presence in the southwest of the Gulf of Mexico. In Mexico there are informal records of the species and its presence has been indicated based on regional faunal lists (Del Moral-Flores et al., 2015; Ehemann et al., 2018); this is the first record of the species in Mexican waters based on and supported by museum material.

The specimens registered in the northern Gulf of Mexico, have been juveniles: Alabama (USNM 197409, a juvenile male with 666 mm disk width) and Louisiana (USNM 205397, a juvenile male with 717 mm DW), USA (Notarbartolo-di-Sciara, 1987). The sizes are similar to the interval observed in the captured specimens (552-773 mm DW) in the southeast of the Gulf of Mexico, and they did not present developed or calcified claspers, which could indicate the possibility that in the Gulf of Mexico, there are areas with favorable conditions to serve as areas of birth or aging. Although for the majority of the mobulids, their ecological and distribution patterns in the juvenile state are unknown, the biology of M. hypostoma is practically unknown (Couturier et al., 2012). There is evidence in the northeastern part of the Gulf of Mexico, in the National Marine Sanctuary of Flower Garden Banks, and surrounding areas, which mark it as a breeding area for both the giant stingray (Mobula birostris) and the reef stingray (Mobula cf. birostris) (Childs, 2001; Stewart et al., 2018). The delimitation of the breeding areas requires criteria to be met; it is important for future studies of their life cycles and considers management strategies and the correct conservation of shark and ray species (Heupel et al., 2007).


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Received: November 11, 2019; Accepted: May 04, 2020

Corresponding author: Luis Del Moral (

Corresponding editor: Leonardo Abitia

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