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Structural Evidence for Evolution

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Queen of the Rays
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Queen of the Rays

Reef manta rays (Manta alfredi) spend all their time hanging around their home reefs

You Mean Those Aren't The Same

Sometimes scientists can't make up their minds. They used to think there were lots of species of manta rays because of color differences. Then they decided there was only one species but lots of different color schemes based on mitochondrial DNA analysis. Everyone was happy with this except for some of the people who spent a lot of time in the field swimming with manta rays. They noticed behavioral differences between manta rays and a size difference to go with the behavior. Then they found the kicker--a vestigial stinger to go with the size and behavior differences. Yep, Andrea Marshall saw what everyone else had missed. There wasn't one species of manta ray. There were two... At least as far as science knows now.

"No Duhs" and Head Scratchers

If you need help scratching a mental itch, use the resources below:

  1. Do you think it matters if scientists look at specimens in the lab and don't observe animals in their native environment? Why or why not?
  2. What kinds of information do you think you could gather by having an animal in a lab that you could not gather in the field? Do you think this kind of information justifies holding animals in labs indefinitely? Why or why not? Do you think this kind of information justifies capturing them and then releasing them?
  3. Explain how the behavioral differences between these two species of manta rays could have led to the formation of the species? Explain your thinking as fully as possible.
  4. Why is the identification of the two species vital to the conservation of the species? What kinds of information do scientists need to have a good chance at being successful in conservation efforts?

Resources

Just like the largest whales and the largest sharks, the largest rays feed on some of the smallest creatures, plankton.

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