Manatee Anatomy

Physical Characteristics


The manatee has a unique look that differentiates it from other mammals. The body of a manatee is very large, and they can weigh from 440 to 1,200 pounds. The overall size depends on several factors including their location, vegetation that is part of their diet, species, and gender. The females are larger and heavier than the males. The length averages from 9 to 14 feet.

They are brownish gray in color with some spots of white or pink on the belly. Sometimes, they may look greenish in color but it isn’t really their skin. Instead, it is the amount of algae from the water that has attached to them. It can be more abundant during certain periods of the year than others.

The body is also covered with thin hairs that you normally won’t notice unless you see one up close. These hairs help to offer them more sensitivity for touch and for finding food. It isn’t believed that they do anything in terms of helping to regulate body temperature.

Manatee Anatomy Facts

Manatee at Crystal River Florida

You will also notice that they don’t have external ears. However, they do have openings behind the eyes that lead to the ear canal. They do have good vision. Touch is very valuable to the emotional well-being and the physical needs of the manatee.

The facial design of this creature is very intriguing, and one of the unique features is that they have an upper lip that is split and flexible. This allows them to grab food and they also use it for a variety of social interactions including communication. The snout is short and wide. They are able to automatically close their nostrils when they are in the water. They have to come up for air approximately every 15 minutes.

They have wide eyes and their eyelids are very fascinating as they close in a circular form. They rely on their molars to grind up the vegetation that they eat. They also have the ability to regrow new teeth throughout their life as their older teeth. The new teeth grow in the back and then the rear teeth will move forward.

The manatee also has a tail that is shaped like a paddle. They use this tail to help them move with ease through the water and not have to expend lots of energy to do so. The streamlined body helps them to conserve energy, even when they are going long distances such as during the migrational season.

Manatee Physical Characteristics

Baby Manatee Sea Cow With Rough Skin

The stomach of a manatee is very large so they can digest the toughest of plant vegetation with ease. They also have an intestinal tract that is longer than other animals of comparable size. It is about 45 meters in length. The food they consume doesn’t offer much nutritional value, so they do need to consume large amounts of food which could account for why the intestinal tract is so long.

There are two pectoral flippers on the upper body that are small. They offer this creature the ability to successfully navigate through the water. These flippers are very flexible so they also use them for feeding and to help them with movement when they are at the bottom of the water. During communication and socialization, they can use them to touch and embrace each other.

All of the species of manatees except for the Amazonian have three or four finger nail type elements at the tip of the flippers. They also have five digits on the flippers that feature thicker skin than the rest of the body. They don’t have external hind limbs, but they are inside the body around the pelvis.


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