*During the early 2000’s, Linda Adams, a former resident of TGO, wrote a series of articles for the TGO Nature Center titled “a Page From Nature”.  This article was a part of that series and was published in the 2000-2001 timeframe.  I added a photograph to assist you in identifying manatees. Enjoy!


TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, TGO, Mammal, Marine, Manatee

Photo Courtesy of Gary Wittstock


Manatee is the common name for a species of a large water mammal, popularly called a sea cow because it grazes on marine grasses and other water plants. The West Indian, or Caribbean, manatee is found in rivers and coastal waters from the southeastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean Sea and northeastern Brazil.

An adult manatee has a rounded body, usually colored light to dark gray or black, that tapers to a horizontally flattened, rounded tail. It is 8 to 14 feet long, and weighs 440 to 1,300 pounds. The small head includes a straight snout and a cleft upper lip with bristly hairs. Its nostrils, set on the upper surface of the snout, are closed tightly by valves when the animal is under water. The paddle like forelimbs (flippers) is set close to the head; no external hind limbs exist. Each flipper has 3-4 fingernails, which aid in tearing roots and digging into the bottom of streams for food. Massive, heavy bones and long, narrow lungs, which extend through the entire body cavity, give the manatee evenly distributed buoyancy.

The reproductive rate is slow. Before a female can have a calf she must be at least 4-6 years old. It’s believed that only one calf is born every 3-5 years — twins are rare. The gestation period is about 13 months, with the calf weighing 60-80 pounds at birth. Calves nurse underwater. They remain with the mother up to 2 years. Females have been known to adopt and nurse orphaned calves.

Manatees live in small family groups, although they occasionally travel in herds of 15 to 20. They feed in both freshwater and salt water, grazing for six to eight hours a day. An adult consumes an amount equal to between 5 and 10 percent of its body weight daily. Manatees have a slower metabolism than other mammals of similar size, which sharply reduces their energy requirements

Manatees have few natural enemies because of their size. However, their population has been reduced significantly in the Amazon River basin in South America, and the rivers and coastal waters of tropical West Africa by heavy hunting for hides, meat and blubber oil. Today, the majority of manatee mortalities are still human-related with 75 percent of deaths caused by boats and barges. Almost all manatees in Florida are deeply scarred from contact with boat propellers. As with most threatened or endangered species, the most serious long­term threat is loss of habitat. Manatee populations are now considered somewhat stable due largely to the protection afforded them under The Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Manatee watchers visit natural springs such as Blue Springs, Crystal River and Homosassa Springs and the warm discharge waters of electrical power plants to catch a glimpse of the elusive manatee.

(Information source: “Florida’s Fabulous Mammals”, “Save The Manatee” and “Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia”.) (Column Prepared by Linda Adams)


The manatee was designated as Florida’s state marine mammal in 1975.

Governor Rick Scott has proclaimed November as Manatee Awareness month to heighten the public awareness  about the importance of protecting the manatees.



TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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