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Abstract

Devil rays (Mobulidae) have large brains that rest in a voluminous chondrocranium almost completely filled by a rete mirabile cranica (RMC). The RMC is a massive arterial network grossly divisible into a “caudal RMC” supplying blood to the brain, and an expanded, more complex “precerebral RMC” nested within the large cranial cavity rostral to the telencephalon.

Both the caudal and precerebral retia originate from the posterior portion of the profundae cerebri arteries, which lie ventral to the brain and form the sides of a vascular triangle, the base of which is anterior and formed by the joining of the internal carotids; the vertex is posterior and median, corresponding to the anterior extreme of the spinalis impar artery. Vessels of the caudal RMC branch posteriorly from the profundae cerebri and course over and into the brain. Vessels branching more anteriorly course rostrally to form the precerebral RMC, which takes the shape of the cranial cavity and completely envelops the olfactory peduncles. Large retial arteries (1-mm diameter) branch and taper to about 50–150 μm, forming a system of small arteries or arterioles. Many give rise to a mesh of tertiary vessels (precapillary arterioles or capillaries, ca. 20–50 μm in diameter), which, along with arterioles, are embedded in the adventitia of these arteries, with which they communicate by numerous anastomoses. Although the function of the RMC remains enigmatic, its complexity and fine structure are suggestive, and hypotheses of its role are discussed.