Manatee is a large aquatic mammal with nearly hairless body. It has a bulky body with herbivorous diet. It is the only aquatic mammal with herbivorous diet. Manatee makes its habitat in the tropical and subtropical estuarine in the Atlantic waters. Manatees are predominantly found in the southeastern United States, west coast of Africa, all throughout the Caribbean and the Amazon River Basin.
Manatee Facts For Kids
- The standard body length of manatee is 9 – 13 ft (3 – 4 m) with the weight measuring at 1,100 – 3,300 lb (500 – 1,500 kg). The difference in size and weight depends on species.
- Manatees do not possess hind limbs. They have a broad rounded paddle-like tail.
- Females are larger and heavier than males.
- They spend half of the day sleeping in water. But they do show themselves at the surface after every 20 minutes to breathe.
- They have short flexible forelimbs with four nails. Amazonian manatee has relatively longer limbs.
- Manatee shows grey to brownish body color as it depends on the algae growing on its skin.
- The manatees typically live in the tropical or subtropical regions of Atlantic Ocean. In West Africa, they inhabit Angola to Senegal.
- On the eastern Atlantic seaboard manatees live in the southeastern United States (Florida)—from Caribbean region to the southeastern Brazil along with the Amazon River basin.
Read More: Are Manatees Endangered?
Manatees feel home in freshwater habitats. They occur in the estuarine and the coastal habitats. Manatees swim in shallow waters because they have to eat seagrasses which do not grow in deep waters.
- Manatees are semi-social creatures. The calf remains with its mother for two years or more. Several males will compete for a female partner.
- Manatees are also known to migrate as the water temperature changes or when freshwater is not abundant.
- They typically communicate by using sounds, taste, vision, and touch. The sounds they produce are in the range of 3 – 5 kHz and is not studied properly.
Feeding Ecology and Diet
- All aquatic mammals are carnivorous but manatee is the only marine mammal that is herbivorous. But they will also feed on small invertebrates along with fish in some regions when vegetation is not readily available.
- Manatees usually rely on freshwater algae and vascular plants together with other terrestrial vegetation that grows on the shorelines. They also eat overhanging plants that touches the water such as red mangrove propagules.
- Manatees will feed on bottom-water vegetation or simply floating seagrasses and too often they will climb out of water to eat shoreline grass.
- Their diet consists of hydrilla, sea clover, water celery, manatee grass, turtle grass, musk grass, mangrove leaves, alligator weed, pickerel weed, water lettuce, widgeon grass, shoal grass and marine algae.
- They are known to consume 10 – 15% of their body weight.
Read More: What Do Manatees Eat?
- Manatees typically mature at 2 – 11 years of age.
- They have a gestation period of 12 months.
- Female usually gives birth to one calf which can be 3.3 – 4.9 ft (100 – 150 cm) long. She seldom litters twins.
- Males attain the maturity age in about 3 – 5 years. They do not guard the young as mother will solely look after the calves. Calves can be born any time of the year.
- The average lifespan of manatees is 60 years.
- They swim at a speed of 5 – 8 km/h with the top speed of 30 km/h which is usually in short bursts.
- According to the International and National Legislation manatees should be placed endangered, threatened or vulnerable species. The International Conservation Union (IUCN) lists all the three manatee species as Vulnerable.
- In Florida and Guyana, manatees have been employed to clear out vegetation-choked waterways and canals. Sadly speaking, they are still hunted for food purposes in some parts of the world.
- Ecologically, manatees play a pivotal role as they keep the vegetation constantly in a regenerating state. This indeed benefits humans. In Florida, manatee has become the basis of ecotourism.