ology logo
card
195

West Indian manatee

OLogy Series
animal
card
195

West Indian manatee

OLogy Series
animal

Manatees were once mistaken for mermaids. In fact, manatees are part of a small group of marine mammals known as "Sirenia." This name comes from the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology, who lured sailors onto their islands with their sweet songs. Today, we know that manatees aren't sirens at all. They are aquatic animals that graze on underwater plants in warm shallow coastal waters.

Manatees are also called sea cows because they:

moo like a cow

live on farms

eat grass

Are you right?

Correct!

People often refer to manatees as sea cows because both cows and manatees are herbivorous, which means that they eat only plants. Cows graze on land, while manatees graze underwater on turtle grass and water lettuce.

Manatees communicate with each other through:

sign language, using their flippers

sounds such as chirps, whistles, and squeaks

a type of "Morse code" tapped on hard surfaces

Are you right?

Correct!

Manatees communicate with each other by making underwater sounds such as chirps, whistles, and squeaks. These sounds are used to express fear or anger and to stay in contact with other manatees in murky water.

Sharks pose one of the greatest threats to manatees.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

In fact, manatees have no natural predators. Manatees are often killed when they collide with sharp boat propellers.

The manatee is a close relative of the elephant.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

The manatee is a close relative of the elephant. In fact, it is believed that manatees evolved from a plant-eating land animal.

West Indian manatee
Scientific name: Trichechus manatus
Size: 8 to 10 feet long
Weight: 1,500 to 1,800 pounds
Habitat: warm, shallow, slow-moving coastal and inland waterways
Diet: aquatic plants
Characteristics: large, gray-brown, a flat tail

Image credits: courtesy of National Marine Fisheries Service, Andrew Bruckner.