The West Indian manatee is a uniform gray or brown color. The female manatee is usually larger than the male. A manatee can weigh as much as 3000 pounds (though this is rare), and the average is between 400 and 800 pounds. Manatees are somewhat seal shaped but they are adapted to a completely aquatic lifestyle.
They have lungs that extend the length of their body and aid in depth control. They have a sparse hair covering and their skin sloughs off continuously. This is thought to deter algae growth. Due to eating rough grasses, the molars of a manatee are constantly being worn down and being replaced throughout the course of their lives. One distinctive feature of the manatee is a split upper lip.
Both parts of their lip are flexible and they use them to help put food in their mouths. The West Indian manatee is an agile swimmer and is capable of complex maneuvers. They are active day and night and rest for long periods between feeding. It is possible that manatees have been mistaken as swimming people and given rise to the legend of mermaids.
West Indian manatees feed primarily on sea grasses. They will however eat leave off of plants and small invertebrates and fish. Because grasses aren’t very nutritious they must eat large quantities every day. This has also given them a very slow metabolism.
The West Indian manatee is found on the southern coast of the United States and as far south as Brazil. They live in shallow waters off the coast or in rivers and estuaries.
The manatee has no natural predators. Most manatee deaths are the result of human activity. In some places, they are hunted for food. The primary human cause of manatee deaths is motor boat accidents. They are also harmed by water pollution that kills their food sources.
The West Indian manatee is a very solitary creature. They live in an area with no natural predators and never developed a grouping system for protection. The only stable group within the manatee population is that of a mother and her calf. Other than that, the only time manatees congregate is during mating.
At this time, breeding males will join in groups and follow the receptive female. Juveniles who are too young to breed will sometimes form groups as well. For the rest of the year, manatees live alone. They are not territorial and have no social hierarchy.
Birth & Offspring
Female West Indian manatees give birth to one calf after about a one-year gestation period. The calf will stay with its mother for the next two years. A young manatee is able to forage for solid food after about 3 weeks.
Lydia King is a huge animal lover and has always been fascinated with learning about the animal kingdom. She enjoys writing about anything animal related from scientific information about rare species to animal references in pop culture.