Trichechus "pygmaeus" (validity questionable)
Manatees (family Trichechidae, genus Trichechus) are large, fully
aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea
cows. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae,
representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia:
Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee
(Trichechus manatus), and the West
African manatee (Trichechus
senegalensis). They measure up to 4.0 metres (13.1 ft) long,
weigh as much as 590 kilograms (1,300 lb), and have
paddle-like flippers. The etymology of the name is dubious, with
connections having been made to Latin "manus" (hand), and to a word
sometimes cited as "manati" used by the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people
of the Caribbean, meaning "breast". Manatees are occasionally
called sea cows, as they are slow plant-eaters, peaceful and similar
to cows on land. They often graze on water plants in tropical seas.
3.2 Intelligence and learning
3.6 Feeding behavior
4.1 Range and habitat
4.1.1 West Indian
4.1.3 West African
5 Relation to humans
5.1.1 Ship strikes
5.1.2 Red tide
5.1.3 Additional threats
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Manatees comprise three of the four living species in the order
Sirenia. The fourth is the Eastern Hemisphere's dugong. The Sirenia
are thought to have evolved from four-legged land mammals over 60
million years ago, with the closest living relatives being the
Proboscidea (elephants) and Hyracoidea (hyraxes).
The Amazonian's hair color is brownish gray, and they have thick
wrinkled skin often with coarse hair, or "whiskers". Photos are rare;
although very little is known about this species, scientists think
they are similar to West Indian manatees.
A skeleton of a manatee and calf, on display at The Museum of
Osteology, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Skull of a
West Indian manatee
West Indian manatee on display at The Museum of Osteology,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Manatees have a mass of 400 to 550 kilograms (880 to 1,210 lb),
and mean length of 2.8 to 3.0 metres (9.2 to 9.8 ft), with maxima
of 4.6 metres (15 ft) and 1,775 kilograms (3,913 lb) seen
(the females tend to be larger and heavier). When born, baby manatees
have an average mass of 30 kilograms (66 lb). They have a large,
flexible, prehensile upper lip. They use the lip to gather food and
eat, as well as using it for social interactions and communications.
Manatees have shorter snouts than their fellow sirenians, the dugongs.
Their small, widely spaced eyes have eyelids that close in a circular
manner. The adults have no incisor or canine teeth, just a set of
cheek teeth, which are not clearly differentiated into molars and
premolars. These teeth are repeatedly replaced throughout life, with
new teeth growing at the rear as older teeth fall out from farther
forward in the mouth, similarly to elephants. At any given time,
a manatee typically has no more than six teeth in each jaw of its
mouth. Its tail is paddle-shaped, and is the clearest visible
difference between manatees and dugongs; a dugong tail is fluked,
similar in shape to a that of a whale. Females have two teats, one
under each flipper, a characteristic that was used to make early
links between the manatee and elephants.
Manatees are unusual amongst mammals in possessing just six cervical
vertebrae, which may be due to mutations in the homeotic genes.
All other mammals have seven cervical vertebrae, other than the
two-toed and three-toed sloths.
Like horses, they have a simple stomach, but a large cecum, in which
they can digest tough plant matter. In general, their intestines have
a typical length of about 45 meters, which is unusually long for
animals of their size.
Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus)".
Apart from mothers with their young, or males following a receptive
female, manatees are generally solitary animals. Manatees spend
approximately 50% of the day sleeping submerged, surfacing for air
regularly at intervals of less than 20 minutes. The remainder of the
time is mostly spent grazing in shallow waters at depths of 1–2
metres (3.3–6.6 ft). The
Florida subspecies (T. m. latirostris)
has been known to live up to 60 years.
Generally, manatees swim at about 5 to 8 kilometres per hour (3 to
5 mph). However, they have been known to swim at up to 30
kilometres per hour (20 mph) in short bursts.
Intelligence and learning
Manatee postures in captivity.
Manatees are capable of understanding discrimination tasks and show
signs of complex associative learning. They also have good long-term
memory. They demonstrate discrimination and task-learning
abilities similar to dolphins and pinnipeds in acoustic and visual
Manatees typically breed once every two years; generally only a single
calf is born.
Gestation lasts about 12 months and to wean the calf
takes a further 12 to 18 months.
Manatees emit a wide range of sounds used in communication, especially
between cows and their calves. Their ears are large internally but the
external openings are small, and they are located four inches behind
each eye. Adults communicate to maintain contact and during sexual
and play behaviors. Taste and smell, in addition to sight, sound, and
touch, may also be forms of communication.
Manatees are herbivores and eat over 60 different freshwater ( e.g.
floating hyacinth, pickerel weed, alligator weed, water lettuce,
hydrilla, water celery, musk grass, mangrove leaves) and saltwater
plants (e.g. sea grasses, shoal grass, manatee grass, turtle grass,
widgeon grass, sea clover, and marine algae). Using their divided
upper lip, an adult manatee will commonly eat up to 10%–15% of their
body weight (about 50 kg) per day. Consuming such an amount
requires the manatee to graze for up to seven hours a day. To be
able to cope with the high levels of cellulose in their plant based
diet, manatees utilize hindgut fermentation to help with the digestion
process. Manatees have been known to eat small numbers of fish
Manatees use their flippers to "walk" along the bottom whilst they dig
for plants and roots in the substrate. When plants are detected, the
flippers are used to scoop the vegetation toward the manatee's lips.
The manatee has prehensile lips; the upper lip pad is split into left
and right sides which can move independently. The lips use seven
muscles to manipulate and tear at plants. Manatees use their lips and
front flippers to move the plants into the mouth. The manatee does not
have front teeth, however, behind the lips, on the roof of the mouth,
there are dense, ridged pads. These horny ridges, and the manatee's
lower jaw, tear through ingested plant material.
Manatees have four rows of teeth. There are 6 to 8 high-crowned,
open-rooted molars located along each side of the upper and lower jaw
giving a total of 24 to 32 flat, rough-textured teeth. Eating gritty
vegetation abrades the teeth, particularly the enamel crown; however,
research indicates that the enamel structure in manatee molars is
weak. To compensate for this, manatee teeth are continually replaced.
When anterior molars wear down, they are shed. Posterior molars erupt
at the back of the row and slowly move forward to replace these like
enamel crowns on a conveyor belt, similarly to elephants. This process
continues throughout the manatee's lifetime. The rate at which the
teeth migrate forward depends on how quickly the anterior teeth
abrade. Some studies indicate that the rate is about 1 cm/month
although other studies indicate 0.1 cm/month.
Range and habitat
Approximate distribution of Trichechus; T. manatus in green; T.
inunguis in red; T. senegalenis in orange
Manatees inhabit the shallow, marshy coastal areas and rivers of the
Caribbean Sea and the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico (T. manatus, West Indian
Amazon basin (T. inunguis, Amazonian manatee), and West
Africa (T. senegalensis, West African manatee).
West Indian manatees prefer warmer temperatures and are known to
congregate in shallow waters. They frequently migrate through brackish
water estuaries to freshwater springs. They cannot survive below
15 °C (60 °F). Their natural source for warmth during
winter is warm, spring-fed rivers.
A group of three manatees
The coast of the state of Georgia is usually the northernmost range of
the West Indian manatees because their low metabolic rate does not
protect them in cold water. Prolonged exposure to water temperatures
below 20 °C (68 °F) can bring about "cold stress
syndrome" and death.
Florida manatees can move freely between salinity extremes.
Manatees have been seen as far north as Cape Cod, and in 1995 and
again in 2006, one was seen in New York City and Rhode Island's
Narragansett Bay. A manatee was spotted in the Wolf River harbor near
Mississippi River in downtown Memphis in 2006, though it was later
found dead 10 miles downriver in McKellar Lake.
West Indian manatee
West Indian manatee migrates into
Florida rivers, such as the
Crystal, the Homosassa, and the Chassahowitzka Rivers. The headsprings
of these rivers maintain a 22 °C (72 °F) temperature all
year. During November to March, about 400 West Indian manatees
(according to the National Wildlife Refuge) congregate in the rivers
in Citrus County, Florida.
During winter, manatees often congregate near the warm-water outflows
of power plants along the coast of
Florida instead of migrating south
as they once did. Some conservationists are concerned that these
manatees have become too reliant on these artificially warmed
areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to find a new
way to heat the water for manatees that are dependent on plants that
have closed. The main water treatment plant in
Guyana has four
manatees that keep storage canals clear of weeds; there are also some
in the ponds of the national park in Georgetown, Guyana.
Florida manatees must have some access to fresh water
for proper regulation of water and salts within their bodies.
Accurate population estimates of the
Florida manatee (T. manatus) are
difficult. They have been called scientifically weak due to widely
varying counts from year to year, some areas showing increases, others
decreases and little strong evidence of increases except in two areas.
Manatee counts are highly variable without an accurate way to estimate
Florida in 1996, a winter survey found 2,639 manatees, in
1997, a January survey found 2,229, and a February survey found
1,706. A statewide synoptic survey in January 2010 found 5,067
manatees living in Florida, which was a new record count.
As of January 2016, the USFWS estimates the range-wide manatee
population to be at least 13,000, with at least 6,300 in
Population viability studies conducted in 1997 found that decreasing
adult survival and eventual extinction is a probable future outcome
Florida manatees, without additional protection. U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service proposed downgrading the manatee's status from
endangered to threatened in January 2016 after over 40 years on the
endangered species list.
Fossil remains of
Florida manatee ancestors date back about 45 million
Amazonian manatee (T. inunguis) inhabits the Amazon
River and its tributaries, and never ventures into salt water.
They are found in coastal marine and estuarine habitats, and in
freshwater river systems along the west coast of Africa from the
Senegal River south to the
Cuanza River in Angola. They live as far
upriver on the
Niger River as
Koulikoro in Mali, 2,000 km from
Overall, predation does not present a significant threat to the
survival of any manatee species.
Relation to humans
Manatee conservation status
Young manatees can be curious; this individual is inspecting a kayak
The main causes of death for manatees are human-related issues, such
as habitat destruction and human objects. Natural causes of death
include adverse temperatures, predation by crocodiles on young, and
Their slow-moving, curious nature, coupled with dense coastal
development, has led to many violent collisions with propeller-driven
boats and ships, leading frequently to maiming, disfigurement, and
even death. As a result, a large proportion of manatees exhibit spiral
cutting propeller scars on their backs, usually caused by larger
vessels that do not have skegs in front of the propellers like the
smaller outboard and inboard-outboard recreational boats have. They
are now even identified by humans based on their scar patterns. Many
manatees have been cut in two by large vessels like ships and tug
boats, even in the highly populated lower St. Johns River's narrow
channels. Some are concerned that the current situation is inhumane,
with upwards of 50 scars and disfigurements from vessel strikes on a
single manatee. Often, the lacerations lead to infections, which
can prove fatal. Internal injuries stemming from being trapped between
hulls and docks and impacts have also been fatal. Recent
testing shows that manatees may be able to hear speed
boats and other watercraft approaching, due to the frequency the boat
makes. However, a manatee may not be able to hear the approaching
boats when they are performing day-to-day activities or distractions.
The manatee has a tested frequency range of 8 kilohertz to 32
Manatees hear on a higher frequency than would be expected for such
large marine mammals. Many large boats emit very low frequencies,
which confuse the manatee and explain their lack of awareness around
boats. The Lloyd's mirror effect results in low frequency propeller
sounds not being discernible near the surface, where most accidents
occur. Research indicates that when a boat has a higher frequency the
manatees rapidly swim away from danger.
In 2003, a population model was released by the United States
Geological Survey that predicted an extremely grave situation
confronting the manatee in both the Southwest and Atlantic regions
where the vast majority of manatees are found. It states,
In the absence of any new management action, that is, if boat
mortality rates continue to increase at the rates observed since 1992,
the situation in the Atlantic and Southwest regions is dire, with no
chance of meeting recovery criteria within 100 years.
"Hurricanes, cold stress, red tide poisoning and a variety of other
maladies threaten manatees, but by far their greatest danger is from
watercraft strikes, which account for about a quarter of Florida
manatee deaths," said study curator John Jett.
Manatee bearing scars on its back from a boat propeller.
According to marine mammal veterinarians:
The severity of mutilations for some of these individuals can be
astounding – including long term survivors with completely severed
tails, major tail mutilations, and multiple disfiguring dorsal
lacerations. These injuries not only cause gruesome wounds, but may
also impact population processes by reducing calf production (and
survival) in wounded females – observations also speak to the likely
pain and suffering endured. In an example, they cited one case
study of a small calf "with a severe dorsal mutilation trailing a
decomposing piece of dermis and muscle as it continued to accompany
and nurse from its mother ... by age 2 its dorsum was grossly
deformed and included a large protruding rib fragment visible."
These veterinarians go on to state:
[T]he overwhelming documentation of gruesome wounding of manatees
leaves no room for denial. Minimization of this injury is explicit in
the Recovery Plan, several state statutes, and federal laws, and
implicit in our society's ethical and moral standards.
In 2009, of the 429
Florida manatees recorded dead, 97 were killed by
commercial and recreational vessels, which broke the earlier record
number of 95 set in 2002.
Another cause of manatee deaths are red tides, a term used for the
proliferation, or "blooms", of the microscopic marine algae, Karenia
brevis. This dinoflagellate produces brevetoxins that can have toxic
effects on the central nervous system of animals.
In 1996, a red tide was responsible for 151 manatee deaths. The
bloom was present from early March to the end of April and killed
approximately 15% of the known population of manatees along South
Florida's western coast. Other blooms in 1982 and 2005 resulted in
37 and 44 deaths, respectively.
Manatees occasionally ingest fishing gear (hooks, metal weights, etc.)
while feeding. These foreign materials do not appear to harm manatees,
except for monofilament line or string, which can block a manatee's
digestive system and slowly kill it.
Manatees can also be crushed in water control structures (navigation
locks, floodgates, etc.), drown in pipes and culverts, and are
occasionally killed by entanglement in fishing gear, primarily crab
pot float lines.
While humans are allowed to swim with manatees in one area of
Florida, there have been numerous charges of people harassing and
disturbing the manatees. According to the United States Fish and
Wildlife Service, approximately 99 manatee deaths each year are
related to human activities. In January 2016, there were 43
manatee deaths in
All three species of manatee are listed by the World Conservation
Union as vulnerable to extinction.
It is illegal under federal and
Florida law to injure or harm a
manatee. They are classified as "endangered" by both the state and the
MV Freedom Star
MV Freedom Star and MV Liberty Star, ships used by
NASA to tow
space shuttle solid rocket boosters back to Kennedy Space Center, are
propelled only by water jets to protect the endangered manatee
population that inhabits regions of the
Banana River where the ships
Brazil outlawed hunting in 1973 in an effort to preserve the species.
Deaths by boat strikes are still common.
In January 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the
West Indian manatee
West Indian manatee be reclassified from an "endangered" status to
"threatened" as improvements to habitat conditions, population growth
and reductions of threats have all increased. The proposal will not
affect current federal protections.
As of February 2016, 6,250 manatees were reported swimming in
Manatees were traditionally hunted by indigenous
Christopher Columbus arrived in the region, hunting was already
an established trade, although this is less common today.
The primary hunting method was for the hunter to approach in a dugout
canoe, offering bait to attract it close enough to temporarily stun it
with a blow near the head from an oar-like pole. Many times the
creature would flip over, leaving it vulnerable to further attacks.
From manatee hides, Native Americans made war shields, canoes, and
shoes, though manatees were predominantly hunted for their abundant
Later, manatees were hunted for their bones, which were used to make
"special potions". Until the 1800s, museums paid as much as $100 for
bones or hides. Though hunting was banned in 1893, poaching continues
A manatee at SeaWorld, Florida
The oldest manatee in captivity was Snooty, at the South Florida
Manatee Aquarium in Bradenton, Florida. Born at the
Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company on July 21, 1948,
Snooty was one of
the first recorded captive manatee births. Raised entirely in
Snooty was never to be released into the wild. As such he
was the only manatee at the aquarium, and one of only a few captive
manatees in the United States that was allowed to interact with human
handlers. That made him uniquely suitable for manatee research and
Snooty died suddenly two days after his 69th birthday, July 23, 2017,
when he was found in an underwater area only used to access plumbing
for the exhibit life support system. The South
initial press release stated, “Early indications are that an access
panel door that is normally bolted shut had somehow been knocked loose
Snooty was able to swim in.” 
There are a number of manatee rehabilitation centers in the United
States. These include three government-run critical care facilities in
Florida at Lowry Park Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, and SeaWorld Orlando.
After initial treatment at these facilities, the manatees are
transferred to rehabilitation facilities before release. These include
the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium,
Epcot's The Seas, South
Florida Museum, and Homosassa Springs Wildlife
The Columbus Zoo was a founding member of the
Partnership in 2001. Since 1999, the zoo's
Manatee Bay facility has
helped rehabilitate 20 manatees. The Cincinnati Zoo has
rehabilitated and released more than a dozen manatees since 1999.
Manatees can also be viewed in a number of European zoos, such as the
Tierpark Berlin, the Nuremberg Zoo, in
ZooParc de Beauval
ZooParc de Beauval in France
and in the
Aquarium of Genoa
Aquarium of Genoa in Italy. The
River Safari at Singapore
features seven of them. They are also included in the plans of the
Wild Place Project
Wild Place Project in Bristol, England, whose first exhibit is opened
in summer 2013 with the manatees as an addition as early as
The manatee has been linked to folklore on mermaids. Native Americans
ground the bones to treat asthma and earache. In West African
folklore, they were considered sacred and thought to have been once
human. Killing one was taboo and required penance.
Manatees were featured in the "Cartoon Wars Part II" episode of South
Park, as the creative force behind the television show Family Guy. The
manatees were shown to be living in a tank at FOX Studios which was
filled with "idea balls." The manatees randomly selected the idea
balls to make the jokes for the show. They are also revealed as being
"the only animal unmoved by terrorist threats."
Manatee of Helena
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Trichechidae.
Save the Manatee
Murie, James On the form and structure of the
americanus), (1872) London, Zoological Society of London Year
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Florida manatees may lose endangered status
A website with many manatee photos
Bibliography and Index of the
Sirenia and Desmostylia – Dr.
Domning's authoritative manatee research bibliography
Sirenia species by family
Dugong (D. dugon)
Amazonian manatee (T. inunguis)
West Indian manatee
West Indian manatee (T. manatus)
African manatee (T. senegalensis)