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10 Curious Manatee Facts That Are Going to Blow Your Mind

Manatee facts are as abundant as legends. Yes, you read that right, and most of them are associated with mermaids.

“On the previous day [January 8, 1493], when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro [Haiti], he said he saw three mermaids very clearly, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not as pretty as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.” – Christopher Columbus wrote in his logbook.

We all know that Columbus crossed the Atlantic to set foot on what they called a new continent, and what a coincidence! He traveled right through regions of the ocean where manatees live.

It’s not that manatees look much like humans, although from afar they could be mistaken. They have the right size, and they stick their heads and torsos out of the water, thanks to the vertebrae in their neck they can turn them, and, moreover, they have limbs divided into five deformed fingers. As if that weren’t enough, manatees breastfeed their young, often in a vertical position and holding the little one with their flippers, as a human mother would.

Another African legend tells of a young maiden who bathed naked in the river and when she saw men approaching, she jumped to cover her butt with a fan. Due to shyness, she spent the rest of her life in the water, where the fan turned into a tail and she became a manatee.

And so, we can go on telling tales and stories of manatees, who have always been shrouded in mystery. However, thanks to scientific research, manatee facts are gradually being discovered.

Today we’ll tell you about the most diverse curiosities of these herbivorous marine animals that have unique adaptations such as an endless supply of teeth, prehensile flippers, and a metabolic rate that allows them to fast for up to seven months. Check out the table of contents.

1. What Is a Manatee

Manatees belong to the order of Sirenian mammals, named for their association with the mythical sirens due to their superficial resemblance to mermaids. Within this order, they are classified in the genus Trichechus and the family Trichechidae. Despite their scientific names, these gentle giants are commonly known as manatees or sea cows.

The indigenous Caribbean language uses the word “manatee” to describe an animal “with breasts.” However, an alternative theory suggests that the term “manatus” is derived from the Greek word “manatos,” meaning “gifted with hands.”

There are three distinct manatee species.

The first is the West Indian manatee, which closely resembles its ancient ancestors and is often spotted with algae growing on its back.

The second species is the African manatee, whose lineage can be traced back to manatees that dispersed from the West Indies.

Lastly, the Amazon species feeds on grasses and has more complex teeth than the other two species.


2. Where Do Manatees Come From

Are you ready for a journey through time? Then buckle up and get ready to be amazed by the fascinating manatee facts we’re about to share with you!

Did you know that these marine giants evolved from land mammals that also gave rise to elephants, hyraxes, and possibly even anteaters? That’s right, just as you heard it!

Although we’re not certain what natural forces led these ancient mammals to explore the ocean floor, there are animals today that employ similar strategies. For instance, domestic sheep on the Scottish islands feed on kelp between tides, and pigs on the Tokelau Islands in the South Pacific forage along coral reefs, walking with their heads submerged. How intriguing, isn’t it? Well, the manatees must have been up to something.

Based on fossil evidence, it’s believed that the Sirenians arrived in South America over 35 million years ago during the Eocene or Oligocene epoch – that’s even before dinosaurs existed! While we can’t say for sure what these creatures looked like, we do know that the oldest known manatee lived during the middle Miocene era, between 13 and 16 million years ago.

However, manatees still had a lot of evolution to undergo, especially with regard to their teeth.

Manatee Facts - datos curiosos del manatee (5)

3. What Do Manatees Look Like

3.1. Manatee Description

Let’s talk about some fascinating facts regarding the manatee’s body! These incredible aquatic mammals have a sturdy physique that is incredibly well-suited to life in the water.

Despite lacking hind limbs, manatees do possess front limbs or rather, pectoral fins. These fins are relatively short, with a rounded tip and three to four nails. They allow the manatees to direct their body while swimming, move laterally, and manipulate their food.

At the back of their bodies, manatees have a large, rounded caudal fin that is flattened like a fan. This incredible tool allows them to propel themselves and move through the water with remarkable ease – it’s like having a built-in motor in their tail!

Moreover, manatees possess long, fine sensory hairs that are sparsely distributed throughout their bodies, particularly on their snouts. These hairs allow them to sense the aquatic environment and detect nearby food – it’s like they have a sixth sense when it comes to finding their favorite meals!

Finally, the manatee’s skin is thick, rough, and typically gray or brown in color. Although they may appear green at times, this is actually algae that have adhered to their skin, giving them a greenish tint.


3.2. How Much Does a Manatee Weigh

When a newborn manatee comes into the world, it weighs around 20 to 30 kg and measures 90 to 110 cm long. That’s about the size of a 6-year-old child! But as the manatee grows and becomes an adult, it can measure up to 312 cm long, about 3 times its size when it was born! And, of course, the weight also increases significantly, from 450 to 500 kg!


3.3. Manatee Swim

First, in this point, let’s talk about manatees’ lungs facts. These animals have a single lobe in each lung. But the most interesting fact is where they are located. They are along the back, above the abdominal cavity, so they can remain horizontal underwater and move around easily.

In addition, manatees’ bones are very heavy and dense, and they do not have marrow inside. What does this mean? Well, this bone structure helps keep manatees submerged in the water. Only the spinal column contains some marrow to produce red blood cells. These animals are truly adaptable to aquatic life!

Thanks to this physiology, their movements are not fast. On average, they move at a speed of 5 to 8 km/h. However, do not underestimate the speed of these animals! In case of need, they can reach speeds of up to 30 km/h over short distances.

However, it is important to mention that manatees need to breathe air like any other mammal. So, they usually come up to the surface to breathe every 2 to 5 minutes, but in extreme situations, they can remain underwater for up to 20 minutes.


3.4. Manatees’ Teeth

If humans were manatees, we wouldn’t need a dentist! These animals have a system of teeth in constant renewal.

Manatees have molars and premolars in a row on each side of their jaws, just like us. But as their teeth wear down, new teeth emerge at the end of the rows, much like our wisdom teeth. However, their new teeth move forward to replace the ones that fall out.

The front teeth naturally wear down and fall out, and new teeth advance a few millimeters each month. The most amazing part? This process of dental change continues throughout their lives. Even when they are very old, they continue to change teeth.

4. What Do Manatees Eat

It is clear that they have a lot of tooth wear, does this have to do with their diet?

These aquatic mammals are herbivores and love to devour all kinds of aquatic plants. They like algae, seagrass, and vascular plants (plants with roots, stems, leaves, and flowers) found in mangroves, estuaries, and rivers.

They can even change their diet between rainy and dry seasons depending on what is available!

So far, everything seems normal, however, what is striking is the following manatee fact: the number of plants they eat. Manatees spend a third of their day eating! They can consume up to 8% of their body weight, between 30 and 45 kg of vegetation in wet weight daily! The food moves through their long intestines for several days, while the manatee continues its way through the water. It’s a diet full of fiber, but it takes a toll on their teeth!


5. Do Manatees Migrate?

Do manatees eat a lot? Yes. Do they have a very low metabolic rate? They do. In other words, they can go on prolonged fasts. They can go up to 7 months without eating.

For example, during the warm or rainy season, the Amazonian manatee accumulates fat in its body to survive during times of scarcity, such as the dry season. When the waters recede, between October and November, the manatees set off and begin their migration through the estuaries. The truth is that shallow waters are very dangerous for them. They can get trapped, with nothing to eat, and be hunted by animals such as alligators, jaguars, and even humans!

At the same time, we could say that they cannot live in cold places due to their inability to metabolize energy fast enough. However, who hasn’t heard of sightings of manatees further north in Florida or even in Georgia?

What our friends do is travel quite fast, sometimes up to 50 km per day! In addition, females tend to graze in the same areas each summer and migrate to the same places in winter.

6. Manatee Reproduction

Although manatees are solitary animals, they have social interactions, mainly centered around reproduction. Female manatees reach sexual maturity quite young, at three years old, and can continue reproducing for over 20 years. When a female is in heat, she is pursued by a group of six to twenty males who push and fight for her attention. It’s a real wrestling show!

After mating (which apparently involves several males), the female selects a secluded area to give birth. They usually have one calf every two to three years, although sometimes they have twins. The mother and calf stay together for at least a year and communicate with each other through chirping sounds. Some females even adopt and nurse calves that are not their own.

In this article, we have shown you manatees facts that allow us to bring these animals out of the mists of mystery and legend. Now we know them a little better. There’s only one question left. Are you coming to the Caribbean to see them in person?