West Indian Manatee
West Indian manatees, also commonly known as sea cows, are aquatic mammals found in the waters around the Caribbean.
Table of Contents
West Indian Manatee Scientific Classification
Table Of Content
Table of Contents
West Indian Manatee
Size: They measure at about 8.9-11.5 ft (2.7-3.5 m).
Weight: An average individual can weigh around 440-1,320 lb (200-600 kg).
Color: Their skin color is variable between brown and gray.
Distribution & Subspecies
- Antillean or Caribbean manatee (T. m. manatus) – Suriname, French Guiana, Venezuela, Guyana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Belize, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
- Florida manatee (T. m. latirostris) – Around Florida in the United States.
West Indian manatees live in estuarine, fresh and marine waters. The Antillean subspecies stay further out in the sea than their Florida cousins.
- They are a solitary creature, rarely forming groups and even so, temporarily. Juvenile males sometimes form herds because of their exclusion from partaking in reproductive activities, and adult males may congregate around a female in estrus.
- They are active during the day and night, but rest for a few hours, either near water surface or at the bottom.
- They are a migratory mammal and do so to adapt to fluctuating water temperatures.
West Indian manatees consume around 60 plants including sea grasses forming their primary food source. They also eat small invertebrates and fish.
Mating & Reproduction
They breed once every 3-5 years. A female in estrus attracts up to 20 males who pursue her for about a week and sometimes up to a month. The female often mates with more than one male. After a gestation period of 11-14 months, she gives birth to a single calf, although twin births have also been observed on occasion.
Offspring are born with molars and premolars so that they can start consuming sea grass soon after birth. They stay dependent upon their mothers for the first two years of their life. Males reach sexual maturity by the time they are between 9 and 10 years old, while females become mature when they are 4-5 years old, but become successful mothers between 7-9 years of age.
They live for around 30 years in the wild.
Sounds & Communication
They use tactile, visual and chemical means to communicate with each other. Mothers and their offspring communicate with each other through squeals and squawks.
- Since West Indian manatees feed on grass growing on the sea floor, their snouts are bent downwards so as to facilitate the grasping their food.
- They have sensitive whiskers all over their body which are known as vibrissae. These whiskers aid them in navigation and tactile communication.
- Their forelimbs are evolved into flippers to help them to swim. These flippers have 3-4 nails.
- Their lungs are equal to the length of the body and run along the spine to keep them afloat. Regulating the air capacity within the lung, they can move around in the water without having to swim.
- The foods that they eat often wear away their teeth, which are replaced by new ones throughout their life. This is called ‘marching molars.’
- They use their tail to propel themselves forward in the water, where they are rather agile.
They do not have any natural predators.
IUCN Conservation Status
The IUCN has categorized the West Indian manatee under their ‘Vulnerable’ list.
Why is the West Indian manatee endangered
While not yet classified as endangered, their numbers have been on a decreasing trend over the past few decades. The primary reason behind this downswing is constant hunting for their hide and meat. Illegal poaching and unfortunate collisions with water-crafts also kill many of these marine mammals annually.
Currently, their population is estimated to be less than 2,500 mature individuals.
- The closest living terrestrial relative of this animal are elephants. The features that they share are the nails at the end of their appendages, and the prehensile upper lip.
- Snooty, a captive-born West Indian manatee at a Florida aquarium is 68 years old as of 2017, well over the average lifespan of its species.
- It is one of Florida’s state mammals.