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Manatees are large and aquatic mammals, which belong to the family Trichechidae. These mammals are mostly herbivorous. They are also known as sea cows. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, they are the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis).
These marine creatures measure up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 1300 pounds. They have paddle-like flippers. These mammals have two forelimbs, known as flippers and have three to four nails on each flipper. The head and face are wrinkled and have whiskers on the snout. The closest relatives of the manatees are the elephant and the hyrax. The adult manatee grows up to a size of around 10 feet long and weighs about (800 to 1,200) pounds.
Habitat and Range
These species are found in shallow, saltwater bays, canals, slow-moving rivers estuaries, and coastal areas. They are a migratory species. These species are found in Florida in the winter, in the United States. These sea creatures are also found in the coastal and inland waterways of Central America and along the northern coast of South America.
Behavior: These species are peaceful, gentle and slow-moving animals. These species spent most of their time in eating, resting, and traveling. They are completely herbivorous. They eat a large variety of emergent, submerged, and floating plants. These creatures consume 10-15% of their body weight in vegetation daily. As they are mammals, they must come to surface to breathe air. They rest either at the bottom or can be seen lying just below the surface of the water. These species come up to the surface to breathe on an average of every three to five minutes. They can swim up to 20 miles per hour in short bursts. However, they generally swim about three to five miles per hour.
Lifespan, Mortality, and Population
These species have no natural enemies, and they can live up to 60 years or more. A certain percentage of manatee mortality becomes the victim of natural causes of death such as cold stress, pneumonia, gastrointestinal disease, and other diseases. A large number of additional fatalities are caused by human beings and the most human-related manatee fatalities occur from collisions with watercraft. The other causes can be flood control structures, ingestion of fish hooks, litter, and monofilament line.
Breeding and Reproduction
The reproductive rate of these species is low. The reason is that, they become sexually mature when they are about five years old. It has been found that only one calf is born every two to five years. The gestation period in these creatures is about a year. Mothers nurse take care of their young for one to two years, and during this time, a calf remains dependent on its mother.
The Florida Manatee Recovery Plan was developed for the protection of the Endangered Species. This recovery plan is coordinated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). These agencies are working towards the recovery of manatees from their current endangered status.
Read more on Manatees Endangerment and Conservation