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Interesting facts about manatees

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We found 14 interesting facts about manatees

One of the most peaceful and gentle sea creatures.

Manatees (Trichechidae) are gentle giants of the seas and oceans, fascinating with their unique nature and importance in aquatic ecosystems. These unusual aquatic mammals combine features reminiscent of both land elephants and sea creatures. This is a herbivorous species with a calm nature and large size - one of the largest marine mammals. Living mainly in warm waters, they play an important role in their ecosystems, influencing the structure and distribution of aquatic plants, affecting the diversity of life in the seas and oceans.

Their behavior, physiology and role in the ecosystem are of interest to scientists and nature lovers around the world. Unfortunately, manatees are threatened by human activity, habitat loss, poaching, and pollution.


Manatees (Trichechidae), also called manatees, are a family of aquatic mammals.

They belong to the order of mermaids, mermaids (Sirenia), large placental mammals that lead an exclusively aquatic lifestyle. They occupy a special place in the ecosystem, as they are the only ones herbivorous aquatic mammals.

The manatee family includes three living species: river manatee, Caribbean manatee i African manatee.


Manatees live in groups in shallow tropical waters.

They are found in coastal areas of the western Atlantic Ocean, from Florida to northeastern Brazil and in the Amazon and Orinoco basins.

The Caribbean manatee inhabits the coastal waters of southeastern North America and northeastern South America, the river manatee is found in the Amazon River system (including its estuary) in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, and the African manatee is found in the coastal waters of West Africa and rivers. flowing into the Atlantic Ocean in this area.


Manatees have slender bodies ranging from 2,5 to 3,9 meters in length.

These are large animals with body weight from 460 to 1620 kilograms. Their forelimbs are modified into flippers with 2-5 vestigial hooves, which are used for paddling and feeding food into the mouth. The hind limbs are reduced, the caudal fin is rounded. 

The manatee's head is poorly defined, the muzzle is elongated and wide, and the eyes are small. The structure of the upper lip facilitates the extraction of aquatic vegetation (algae, sea grass, freshwater plants), which manatees feed on. They eat about 50 kilograms of food per day. The body of manatees is covered with sparse hairs.

Female manatees are larger than males. Weighing about 30 kilograms and measuring 1 meter tall at birth, young manatees are born after a gestation period lasting about a year. The female usually gives birth to one young every 3-5 years. After birth, young manatees can eat plant matter.


They have only six cervical vertebrae.

They chew their food with strong molars, the only ones manatees have. When a manatee is born, it has two vestigial incisors in each jaw, which it loses as it matures. If molars fall out, new ones grow in their place.


Manatees are good swimmers.

They usually move in water at a speed of 5-8 km/h, but in some situations they can swim at speeds of up to 30 km/h. They can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes.


They are known for their characteristic way of swimming on their backs.

They raise their head and front fins above the water level, which makes breathing easier for them, and their wide tails act as fins, making swimming easier.


They cannot tolerate water temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius.

Manatees live in shallow coastal, marine and fresh waters. They often choose areas near power plants where hot water is discharged. Although manatees migrate seasonally, some of them, accustomed to water heated by power plants, have stopped migrating.

A drop in water temperature of up to 15 degrees Celsius can pose a threat to the life of manatees.


Manatees have a low metabolism.

Thanks to this, they spend relatively little energy on daily activities. This is an adaptation to a plant-based diet with low energy value.


Manatees live alone, in small groups or in herds of up to two hundred individuals.

They are gentle, slow and sociable animals. When in a group, they form bonds through touch, verbal communication and smell. They can only live in water, are helpless on land and die quickly. They can live in captivity, where they live for 10-12,5 years. The average lifespan of manatees in the wild is unknown.

On September 26, 2023, a baby Caribbean manatee was born at the Wroclaw Afrikarium. His mother is Abel, who came to Wroclaw in 2017 from Singapore, and the newborn manatee (calf) is her second son. He will be given a name starting with the letter A, just like his mother.

Manatees at the Wroclaw Zoo eat 125 kg of butter lettuce per day. This diet is additionally supplemented with young corn stalks and vegetables.


The only species of manatee found in the Old World is the African manatee, also called the West African manatee.

The African manatee inhabits the widest range of habitats of any manatee species. It can be found in a wide variety of areas, from coastal islands in the Atlantic to rivers in the Western Sahel (a geographic area along the southern edge of the Sahara), rivers in tropical forests, and more.

African manatees have been found 75 kilometers off the coast, where there are shallow coastal plains and calm mangrove streams covered with sea grass.


Manatees don't have many natural predators.

In addition to humans, they are threatened by sharks, crocodiles and alligators, but this is rare due to the different habitats. In the case of African manatees, besides humans, the greatest threat is crocodiles.

People hunt manatees for their meat. They are easy prey because they swim slowly. Even though they are protected by law (classified as an endangered species), they are still hunted by poachers. It is harvested for its meat, oil, bones and skin.


These aquatic mammals have long captured the human imagination and have become the source of many legends and stories in various cultures.

The Wayuu Indians live in the Guajira region of Colombia. According to their legends, manatees were originally humans. One of them says that one day a woman from the Wayuu tribe came into conflict with a water spirit and turned into a manatee. They believe that manatees are reincarnations of their ancestors.

The Seminole Indians of Florida consider manatees to be spirits associated with water and capable of predicting the future. It was believed that these were the spirits of ancestors who helped the Indians fish.


Manatees are also present in Greek mythology.

In this mythology there is the figure of Lamia, who was transformed by the gods into a manatee. She was a beautiful woman who ate children and young men deceived by her charm, and was punished for it. Folklore has caused manatees to be perceived as evil and unlucky.


Manatees often appear in children's literature.

They appear there as likeable characters. They are the heroes of many stories promoting nature conservation and respect for the environment.

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