West Indian Manatee

Trichechus manatus

Introduction to West Indian Manatee

The largest species of manatee is the West Indian species. They are further divided into two subspecies – the Florida Manatee and the Antillean or Caribbean Manatee. There are studies though that may further use DNA to break them down into a third group eventually. The females are larger than the males and overall length can range from 9 to 11 feet. They also have a weight from 440 to 1,300 pounds.

West Indian Manatee Description

The West Indian Manatee is gray or brown in color. They have flippers that help them to move and to grasp food. They also have nails on the flippers that allow them to eat with ease. That combined with the split lip give them plenty of design with their anatomy to survive a life in the water. Their body is designed to make moving in the water easy so they can swim quickly without using lots of energy to do so. They also featured the paddle shaped tail that all manatees have that helps them to navigate.

Class  Mammalia
Order  Sirenia
Family  Trichechidae
Genus  Trichechus
Conservation Status  Vulnerable

West Indian Manatee Distribution

This particular species of manatee is found in the West Indies and the Caribbean. They tend to stick to the coastal areas that are very shallow. They have also been found in various estuaries and rivers too. They can live in murky water, fresh water, and even salt water so that flexibility gives them a large habitat to pick from.

However, they are limited to surviving in the sub tropic and tropic regions because they do have a low rate of metabolism. They don’t store much fat either so they need to be in regions that offer them enough warmth in regards to the water. They do migrate for food and to warmer water. They have been found living in areas of Texas and Massachusetts at times.

The Florida subspecies live in the Northern part of the area and they seem to do very good there. Additionally, others migrate to this area in the winter time so there can be very large numbers of them in one area. All of the West Indian manatees though do need to have access to fresh water for drinking.

West Indian Manatee Behavior

This species of manatee is very fast, and it spends lots of time playing around in the water. They tend to take part in games such as follow the leader. The enjoy social interactions like that and will spent lots of time messing around. They also spend their time eating and resting. They aren’t territorial and they don’t have problems often within the social order of a group.

West Indian Manatee Feeding

This species of manatee feeds on lots of types of vegetation and they can consume approximately 10% of their body weight daily. They have access to a variety of food sources depending on their location and time of year. They don’t get much nutritional value from the food though so they spend anywhere from 6 to 8 hours a day eating.

They rely on the nails on their flippers to help them be able to grab food. They also use the split lip to help them do so. They have the ability to get food in the water, at the bottom of the water, and even anything that may hang over the water that they can reach. They use their molars to grind the food before they swallow it. As their teeth wear down, they will get new ones in the back. The other teeth will move forward.

West Indian Manatee Reproduction

Females are able to start mating around 3 years of age, and for males it is from 9 to 10 years of age. The females may mate with several different males during their estrus cycle. The bulls will create small groups that include them and several females. The females can move to another group at any time, and they frequently will do so. After they are no longer in estrus, they will return to their natural surroundings.

After successfully mating, it takes a year for the young to be born. It is almost always going to be a single birth as twins are very rare. The young weigh between 60 and 70 pounds and they can be about 4 feet in length at birth. They are born tail first and go to the surface without any help to take a breath. They will begin feeding within a few hours of being born.

The mother will remove herself from contact with most others during the 2 years that she cares for her young. She will feed it milk from her body, introduce the calf to vegetation, and teach it about navigation. The two will interact through touching and sound often. Once the young goes on its own, she will join a small group and then mate again that year.


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