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Florida Manatee or West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

By: C.M.Shorter

Florida Manatees
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Manatees are prehistoric aquatic mammals inhabiting the coastal areas of Florida.   The Manatee is an evolutionary marvel having evolved from herbivorous 4-legged land mammals over 45 million years ago with its closest land relatives the modern day Elephant and Hyrax.  Manatees have a rather rotund appearance with large torpedo shaped bodies and thick rubber like skin covered with sparse hair and blunt whiskered snouts resembling a Walrus - but without tusks.  The Manatee is a slow moving gentle giant,  with forearms that developed into front flippers and tails like paddles to guide them through the saltwater bays, canal estuaries, rivers and warm water springs they claim as home.  Their brownish-grey color is usually tinted with shades of green shades from the algae they host, similar to the characteristics of the slow moving Sloth.   The Manatee was adopted as the State of Florida’s Marine Mammal, with the Florida Panther chosen as Florida’s State Mammal.

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The Florida Manatee is native to Florida even though this subspecies is named the “West Indian Manatee” and is relative to the Amazon Manatee, the West African Manatee, the Dugong and Stellar’s Sea Cow.   Unfortunately, the Stellar’s Sea Cow was hunted to extinction in 1768.   Here are some interesting Manatee facts:

Manatees & Sloths are the only two mammals in the world to have just  6 cervical (neck) vertebrae.  All other mammals including the long-necked Giraffe and humans have 7 cervical vertebrae.
Manatees do not have eyelashes but, like TigerHomes Sanctuary’s Tigers & other Big Cats they do have nictitating membranes (3rd eyelid) to protect their eyes.
Manatees continually rotate their teeth replacing old worn teeth with new ones so it is impossible to determine their age from the teeth.  Instead the annual growth rings in their ear bones are used to by marine biologist & researchers to determine age.
Manatees use its flexible flippers to help it move along the bottom of its habitat and also for scratching, touching and giving “Manatee Hugs” to other Manatees.
Manatees upper lips are divided by a deep vertical cleft which enables the Manatee to move each side of the upper lip independently which helps them gather and move food into their mouths which helps because Manatees consume up to 10-15% of their body weight each day in vegetation!

Naturalists & environmentalists travel from all over the world to visit Florida’s hot springs and crystal clear rivers, particularly around Homosassa where Manatees congregate during winter months.  Manatees are extremely sensitive to temperature changes in their habitat and migrate to winter over in warm temperate waters.  A good example of animal adaptation to ever increasing human influx into native habitat, high concentrations of Manatees can be often be found during winter months at power stations where they like to congregate in the warm water discharge.  Unfortunately, after our nation’s tragedy with 9/11 and Homeland Security in the U.S. was tightened, many of the popular Manatee observation decks around power stations were closed to the public.  In season, at Tampa Bay’s Big Bend Electric Power Station you can view their Manatee Cam from November 1st to April 15th when ambient water temperatures drop below 68° Fahrenheit.

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More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
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