A favorite among aquatic wildlife enthusiasts everywhere, sea cows or manatees are gentle giants that have more in common with elephants than they do with cows. If you’re in Florida, perhaps you’re lucky enough to see one while you’re out boating. Here’s everything you need to know about this majestic part of Florida’s natural ecosystem.
Manatees Have Huge Appetites
A single manatee consumes 10 percent of its own body weight in freshwater vegetation and aquatic plant life daily. That can mean anywhere from 40 to 130 pounds of food in a single day, depending on the size, age and sex of the individual manatee.
There’s a Reason They’re Called Sea Cows
Weighing in at a whopping 440 pounds to 1,300 pounds each, an adult manatee is the size of a cow. There’s no sight quite as breathtaking as this massive animal swimming down Florida’s rivers with ease.
Manatees Need to Be Warm
In order to thrive, manatees need water temperatures of at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This limits their range to warm places like the southern United States, west Africa, and the Amazon River.
Manatees are Pros at Diving
Manatees feed on vegetation that’s found at the bottoms of the rivers that they live in, so diving is an important part of their daily life. While underwater, a manatee can hold its breath for up to 20 minutes during a long search for food.
Manatees Are Practically Sea Elephants
While the world calls them sea cows due to their grazing habits and their large size, manatees really have more in common with elephants than they do cattle. Manatees evolved from an ancestor of elephants over 20 million years ago and still have a lot in common with their distant land cousins.
Manatees Are Bigger Than Cars
It’s hard to truly appreciate the size of a manatee without seeing one up close. An adult manatee measures up to 13 feet long, making them longer than even a hefty SUV.
Manatees Come in Three Species
There are three species of manatees, corresponding with their three native habitat ranges. These species include the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis). The West Indian manatee lives in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to the southern United States, while the Amazonian and West African manatees live in their namesake ecosystems.
Manatees Have No Natural Predators
Thanks to their gentle nature and large size, there aren’t any natural predators that prey on manatees. Unfortunately, these same traits make them a target for human poachers who want their hides. Manatees are endangered animals, as of 2016.
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