What are Manatees? Things to Know about the ‘Sea Cow’

Popularly referred to as Sea Cow, the Manatee is a significantly large water-dwelling animal. They have a rather interesting physical look with a small egg-shaped head, humongous body, flippers and a tail to go along with the overall look. The sea cow as it’s occasionally referred to makes a good nickname as the Manatee is both huge and languid.

Although these are sea creatures and bear ‘sea cow’, manatee are closely related to the large land mammals – Elephants and not other aquatic mammals like Dolphin and Whales.

How large are Manatees and how fast can they swim?

The sizes of the sea cow vary with adults growing to heights of between 8 to 13 feet or 2.4 to 4 meters. They are also very bulky with weights ranging from between 440 to 1,300 pounds or 200 to 600 Kilograms.

Interestingly, these sea creatures are pretty decent swimmers, able to swim gracefully using their large and strong tails that propel them forward in the sea. Not the fastest sea creatures you’d find, the Manatee can reach speeds of up to 24 Km/h (15 mph) at their fastest (and in short bursts), but generally, they have a swimming speed of about 8 Km/h (5 mph) which is quite fast.

Manatee Habitat

Like most creatures, the Manatee has several species (three, to be exact). The species include the West Indian Manatee or the American Manatee, the African Manatee and the Amazonian Manatee. Each species is found in the region after which they are named. Manatees are found in water bodies (seas, rivers and oceans) surrounding several countries.

In Africa for instance, the African Manatee dwell in the West Africa region coastlines, living in rivers in the region. The Amazon Manatee is domiciled in the drainage of Amazon Rivers, from the river source in countries like Ecuador, Colombia and Peru down to Brazil, the Amazon’s mouth spread over an estimated 7 million square kilometers. According to the IUCN – the International Union for Conversation of Nature, Manatees are patchily distributed with the bulk of the Amazonian Manatee concentrating on areas with high food nutrients, usually the flooded forest. The West Indian or American Manatee lives in the Eastern and Southern parts of the United States, but there have been known wanderers who have gone as far as the Bahamas. 

Manatee Habits and what they eat

Manatees are not territorial creatures, and as such, you can find them swimming in pairs or sometimes alone. An aggregation which is a group of Manatees can show up over a region for any reason at all, but most times they do come around for mating or when they are sharing a warm area with a bountiful food supply. According to Save the Manatee Club, an aggregation is never larger than six manatees.    

On the diet angle, Manatees are herbivores, so they don’t eat meat not minding their interesting set of dentition. When Manatees are at sea, their preferred diet is seagrasses, however, when they move to fresh water (rivers for instance) they feed on freshwater vegetation. They also consume algae. There are about 60 different types of plants (both fresh water and salt water) that manatees eat.  They are steady, continuous eaters and are able to eat up to a tenth of their weight in about 24 hours according to National Geographic. This means that Manatees can consume grasses and vegetation of up to 59 Kg or 130 pounds in 24 hours.

Reproduction and Offspring

Manatees breed once in two years, and in the process, only a calf is born. Their mating process involves a female manatee (referred to as a cow) being followed around by many male manatees usually around or more than a dozen. These male manatees are called bulls individually while a group is called a mating herd. After mating, the cow or female manatee gets pregnant and gestation lasts for 12 months while weaning the young calf takes between 12 to 18 months. Baby manatees or calf is usually born underwater. After birth, the mother manatee assists the baby manatee to reach the water’s surface so as to inhale air. The baby manatee is usually able to swim on its own after about an hour of being born. It takes five years for a Manatee to become sexually mature and begin reproducing. They also live up to 40 years.

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