What Do Manatees Eat | Manatees Feeding Behavior and Diet

The manatee (Trichechidae) is a massive animal with an uncomplicated behavior. Scientists believe that manatees are semi-social mammals. While they are mostly herbivorous manatees also feed on small animals because of their opportunistic nature. Read on to know what do manatees eat to fill up their big tummy. They are typically slow swimmers because their bulky body does not allow them to swim fast.

What Do Manatees Eat

Manatees are opportunistic mammals and in salt water their diet is mainly composed of seagrass such as manatee grass, shoal grass, and turtle grass. It also eats seedlings and mangrove leaves.

While feeding on seagrass, manatees use their flippers to dig out the nutritious rhizomes of seagrass. However one research says that the manatees will only feed on rhizomes which are extracted by strong currents. Sometimes the species of grass determines the way manatee eats the grass. For instance, manatees will simply uproot the small species of grass but large species of sea grass including Thallasia are typically hard to dig out and thus manatees will only consume their rhizomes. They rely on seagrasses particularly in spring and autumn.

It is true that manatees feed heavily on seagrass but it doesn’t seem to influence the seagrass species.

Manatees often eat the edges of seagrass beds so that they could escape (to deep water) anytime they want when threatened. The invertebrates which are held to the leaves of seagrass or mangroves are mostly eaten by manatees unintentionally.

Read More: Manatee Facts For Kids

what do manatees eat
Manatee feeding on a seagrass. Photo Credit: www.savethemanatee.org

Nevertheless manatees have a carnivorous diet. They are known to eat fish along the northern coast of Jamaica. These fish are mostly caught by the fishermen but before they pull out the net, manatees attack the fish. It also feeds on the flesh of redfish, grouper and carcasses of the flounder.

Read More: Are Manatees Endangered?

One photographer took a photo of a manatee eating a dead rat that came out of a dock. However scientists still doubt whether rat is a regular diet of these animals.

Scientists observed manatees eating the mast of the live oak Quercus virginiana. Beside the live oak manatees consume floating mats of Syringodium filiforme and Halodule wrightii.

What do Manatees eat in Florida

Manatees on the east coast of Florida will consume algae growing on pilings, mooring lines, floats, hulls of boats, and jetties.

The manatee’s diet also consists of vertebrates and invertebrates including manatees’ own faeces. In Florida it is known to have eaten too much of tunicates of the genera Molgula and Steyla; these create toxins with the manatee’s body and are thus extremely poisonous. Many manatees died of the toxin in the late 20th century.

The manatees in the south Florida often feeds on freshwater grass. Unique among these grasses include Syringodium (seagrass) and Panicum (freshwater grass). These grasses are the diets of only adult manatees. The young manatees primarily consume algae.

Sometimes manatees unusually avoid and prefer specific plant species. This is mainly determined by the location. For example in Crystal River, manatees like to eat submerged plants especially waterweed Hydrilla verticillata while avoiding emergent plants.

In St. Johns River, manatees prefer to feed on water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) along with the alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides). Here they do not like to eat water lettuce (Pistia stratoites). In St. Johns River, the eelgrass (Vallisneria Americana) is also added to the preferred diet of manatees.

what do manatees eatIn the Pelican Cove manatees typically feed on Thalassia testudinum but they also supplement their diet with Halodule wrightii.

In certain areas of Florida, manatees consume almost exclusively on freshwater vegetation all year-round.

What Do Manatees eat in Captivity

While in captivity manatees prefer to feed on shore-type and aquatic plant species generally disliking woody terrestrial plants.

They would also consume herbaceous aquatic plants including       spatterdock (Nuphar sp.) and water pennywort (Hydrocotyle umbellate).

39% of manatees’ diet is composed of marine plants; 44% of freshwater plants; and 17% of brackish water plants.

What Do West Indian Manatees Eat

The West Indian manatee also feeds by excavating plants from the source. They also eat alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides) with their heads at the surface to feed on stems, leaves, and roots of plants.

In Panama, manatees feed on the floating vegetation, true grasses, and mangrove leaves along the river banks.

West Indian manatees generally eat Spartina  but they only consume the top parts.