Manta rays feed using ricochet separation, a novel non-clogging filtration mechanism

Solid-liquid filtration is a ubiquitous process found in industrial and biological systems. Although implementations vary widely, almost all filtration systems are based on a small set of fundamental separation mechanisms, including sieve, cross-flow, hydrosol, and cyclonic separation. Anatomical studies showed that manta rays have a highly specialized filter-feeding apparatus that does not resemble previously described filtration systems. We examined the fluid flow around the manta filter-feeding apparatus using a combination of physical modeling and computational fluid dynamics. Our results indicate that manta rays use a unique solid-fluid separation mechanism in which direct interception of particles with wing-like structures causes particles to “ricochet” away from the filter pores. This filtration mechanism separates particles smaller than the pore size, allows high flow rates, and resists clogging.